Read The Storm Dragon Online

Authors: Paula Harrison

The Storm Dragon (4 page)

Sophy gazed at the little sleeping dragon. He looked so cute with his soft purple cheeks and a faint curl of smoke coming from his nostrils. How could anyone think of throwing him into a dungeon? Now and then he gave a little squeaky snore and his wings twitched. Sophy wondered if he was dreaming about flying. His left wing was still crooked. How was she going to help him get back to his family when he couldn’t fly?

Sophy took the bag of stones from her apron pocket. All the rocks were dull and grey except
for the magical one. She tucked the bag with all the ordinary stones into the back of her sock drawer. Then she took out some thread and tied the two halves of hollow rock together before fastening the cotton around her neck. The rock looked as if it were whole again.

Sophy smiled. Wearing the magical stone as a necklace would be much better than picking it up every time she wanted to talk to Cloudy. The rock was tucked beneath her clothes so there was no danger of anyone seeing it.

Cloudy stirred and blinked at her with large amber eyes.

Sophy knelt down next to his basket. “Cloudy, I’ve been thinking. Maybe I could take a look at your wing and see how poorly it is? Helping you get home would be a lot easier if you could fly.”

Cloudy yawned and sat up, stretching out his crooked wing. “OK, Sophy,” he said bravely.

Sophy studied the wing anxiously. “Does it hurt if you move it?”

Cloudy tried to flap the wing but hardly managed to lift it at all. His little face crumpled and tears came to his eyes.

Sophy’s heart ached to see him upset again. “Don’t worry,” she said. “Cook has a brown medicine that she gives me when I hurt myself. Maybe it works on dragons too.”

Cloudy sniffed miserably. “Mummy always gives me dragonweed.”

“Dragonweed? Is that a plant?” Sophy wrinkled her forehead. She’d never heard of dragonweed but Tom might know what it was as he did so much gardening.

Two big tears rolled down Cloudy’s cheeks. “I miss my mummy and I’m sooo hungry!” The last part almost turned into a howl and a burst of wind whirled round the bedroom. Sophy had to shush him and stroke his ears. When Cloudy grew calmer the wind dropped again.

“If I go to fetch you some food, do you promise you’ll stay quiet?” she asked him.

Cloudy nodded eagerly. “The cake was yummy but I need more to nibble.”

“I’ll find you something.” Sophie smiled. Dragons obviously had big appetites even when they were young!

She crept down to the kitchen to look for leftovers that no one would miss. While Cook was outside talking to the delivery boy, she took a piece of cherry pie, three carrots and a bowl of macaroni cheese. Her stomach rumbled, reminding her that she was pretty hungry too. Wrapping the food in her apron, she hurried away and nearly ran straight into Sir Fitzroy.

“Someone find me that dragon!” he was yelling as he stormed down the corridor.

Sophy hung back in the shadows until he’d passed by. Then she dashed upstairs as fast as she could. She found Cloudy curled up in her bed, but still awake. His purple tail looked funny sticking out of the side of the quilt.

“Here you are.” She set the food down
carefully. “I don’t really know what dragons eat so I hope you like it.”

Cloudy leapt out of bed. “Mmm – yum!” he said, taking a bite of carrot.

Sophy took a carrot too and sat down next to him. There was a scratching at the door. She jumped, then realised it was probably only Spaghetti, the castle cat, who liked to sleep on her bed in the afternoons. She opened the door and the big ginger cat strolled in and got halfway across the room before noticing Cloudy. Spaghetti gave a startled meow and her fur stood on end. Then she sprang into the corner and took up guard there, her green eyes fixed on the dragon.

Cloudy waved his tail at the cat and went on eating. After munching the carrots, he scoffed the cherry pie in one bite and then peered doubtfully at the bowl of pasta. “What’s that?”

“It’s macaroni cheese. You eat it with this.” Sophy showed him a spoon. “Although now I
think about it, spoons are probably a bit tricky for a dragon.”

Cloudy licked the pasta suspiciously and a huge smile spread over his face. “I
love
macaroni sneeze!”

“Macaroni
cheese
!” said Sophy, laughing.

Cloudy dipped his face to the bowl, gobbled up the pasta and licked his lips. “
More
macaroni sneeze, Sophy?” he purred.

“I don’t think there is any more,” said Sophy, amazed at how much food the little dragon ate.

There was a whistling from outside and she ran to open the window. Tom was walking past, pushing a wheelbarrow.

“Tom!” she called softly.

He stopped underneath the window. “What’s up? Is everything OK?”

“We’re fine.” She looked around, checking that no one was close enough to hear. “Do you know what dragonweed looks like?”

“Yes, it’s a little plant with orange flowers.
There’s a lot of it in the fields outside the castle.”

Sophy was going to ask more questions about the dragonweed, but a guard came round the corner. Tom gave her a wave and pushed his wheelbarrow away.

Closing the window, Sophy thought hard about what Tom had said and her plan for Cloudy’s escape. She could sneak out, search for the dragonweed and bring it back to fix Cloudy’s wing. But what if she couldn’t find the right plant? Then Cloudy would still be trapped.

No, she would take Cloudy with her. They would go while everyone was having dinner. There would still be guards on the gate but she would get past them somehow. There had to be a way!

Turning back, she was surprised to find that Spaghetti had jumped on to the bed to join them. The dragon padded up to Sophy’s pillow
and breathed on it to make it warm. “There you go, kitty!”

Spaghetti curled up on the cosy pillow, looking very satisfied. Cloudy began singing softly.

Sophy didn’t catch all of it but she heard a line about flying through moonlit clouds.

When the little dragon had finished singing, Sophy asked, “Where’s your home, Cloudy? Do you live near here?”

Cloudy shook his head. “We live on the rocky cliffs by the Great Ocean. But we are always flying – to the Whispering Forest where the star wolves sing and over the grasslands where the unicorns gallop. Sometimes we go to the Dusty Desert to see the firebirds soaring from the volcano. Sometimes we go to the tallest mountains to see the cloud bears making mist with their ice-cold breath.”

Sophy imagined each place as he spoke about it – the whispering trees in the forest and mist floating over the mountains. “Wow! You’ve seen so much.”

“That is our life,” explained Cloudy. “We are storm dragons! We bring rainclouds from the ocean and blow them across the dry land. My brother says that is how the trees and flowers and vegetables get the water they need to grow.”

“Then you’re helping the whole kingdom!” cried Sophy. “It sounds amazing. I wish I could fly across the kingdom like that.”

“I was meant to stay on my brother’s back,” said Cloudy, looking sad. “Not fly off by myself…”

Sophy hugged him tight. “Don’t worry, Cloudy. When the sun goes down, I’ll help you find a way out of here. You’ll be back with the other dragons by morning.”

Sophy’s plan to sneak out at sunset was ruined when Mrs Ricker asked her to serve Queen Viola and Sir Fitzroy their supper. She carried the plates and silver serving-dishes back and forth, growing more nervous with every minute that passed.

Cook noticed that Sophy wasn’t herself. When the queen and Sir Fitzroy were eating their pudding, she made the girl sit down and have a slice of the apple pie she’d cooked to replace the ruined chocolate cake.

Cook studied her with kindly eyes. “What have you been doing today that’s made you look so tired?”

“Picking apples and cleaning the queen’s chamber as well as other things.” Sophy smiled.

Cook was always nice to her. She felt bad that she couldn’t explain about Cloudy. Cook sent her upstairs for a rest, and Sophy hurried away gratefully. She found the little dragon by her bedroom window, gazing at the sky.

“Time to go, Cloudy.”

Sophy pulled off her maid’s apron and put on the only other clothing she owned – a midnight-blue dress that she wore to go to the village on her day off. It had been mended in lots of places but it was still a beautiful colour. Wearing it would make her harder to spot in the darkness. Finally, she took the bag of stones out of her sock drawer and put them in her dress pocket, just in case they came in handy.

She lifted Cloudy into the laundry basket again and covered him up with clothes and sheets. Slipping into the corridor, she got halfway down the back stairs when she heard Mrs Ricker arguing with Cook at the bottom.

“You’re too soft on that girl!” snapped the
housekeeper. “I bet she’s up to mischief.”

“Sophy has a good head on her shoulders,” Cook replied. “And a kinder heart than a lot of people in this castle. All this nonsense about a fierce dragon on the loose! I bet the poor creature means no harm to anyone.”

Sophy smiled. At least Cook wasn’t against dragons like Sir Fitzroy. She swung round with the basket and hurried back up the stairs.

“We’ll have to go the other way,” she whispered to Cloudy. “We definitely can’t risk Mrs Ricker seeing you.”

She didn’t dare climb down the wall creeper in the dark and she didn’t think Cloudy would manage it either. So the only other way out was the grand staircase.

“Where are we going, Sophy?” piped up Cloudy from under the sheets.

“Shh! We’ll be out soon.” Sophy crept along the thick red carpet and down the wide staircase with its golden handrails. She could get into big
trouble for this. She wasn’t supposed to bring washing baskets down the grand staircase at all, let alone one with a dragon inside!

Voices were drifting through the big, arched doorway that led into the grand Banquet Hall. Queen Viola and Sir Fitzroy must still be in there, eating apple pie and drinking coffee.

“So I’ve put twice as many guards on the gate and along the walls,” said Sir Fitzroy. “I believe that the nasty little beast is still somewhere in the castle grounds. But we’ll find him and then he’ll be sorry!”

“Thank goodness I have you defending the castle, Sir Fitzroy,” said the queen. “I’ve never liked magical animals. How can you trust a creature that breathes fire or sings to the stars?”

Sophy’s cheeks reddened. She was glad that Cloudy didn’t understand what Queen Viola had just said. How could she think such things? Cloudy was so sweet and lovely and his storm magic was amazing!

Sophy reached the bottom of the stairs and held her breath as she tiptoed past the huge doorway to the Banquet Hall. She could see Queen Viola at the banquet table wearing her gold crown. Sir Fitzroy sat opposite, clothed in a black velvet robe instead of his usual armour.

Sophy walked faster, but the edge of the washing basket knocked against a silver vase on a table. The empty vase toppled over with a loud clang. Her heart sank. She hoped no one had heard it.

“You there!” yelled Sir Fitzroy. “I want to talk to you!”

Sophy froze. Both Sir Fitzroy and Queen Viola were looking her way. She glanced down, but Cloudy was still hidden beneath the layers of sheets and clothes.

“Yes, sir,” she called back, trying to sound normal. “Shall I ask Cook to send in more coffee?”

“No, I don’t want coffee!” Sir Fitzroy’s fierce
eyes seemed to see right through her. “You’re the one that was in the orchard when the beast landed, aren’t you? I want to ask you some more questions. Come here at once, girl.”

Sophy’s heart pounded. If she put the basket down Cloudy might get the wrong idea and jump out. Going closer with the basket might be even worse. If Cloudy were seen here he’d be captured in seconds.

“Sorry, sir, but I have an important errand,” she said cheerfully. “I’ll finish up and be back in a few minutes––”

“GET OVER HERE AT ONCE!” Sir Fitzroy banged his fist on the table, making the dishes shake. “You can’t tell me you’ll come back later. You’re nothing but a serving maid!”

Sophy’s hands tightened on the edge of the basket. She longed to tell Sir Fitzroy that there was no need to be rude. When the old king was alive, no one would have been allowed to yell like that.

The clothes at the top of the basket shook and two aprons and a pillowcase blew into the air. A gust of wind swirled round Sophy.

Then a sheet floated out of the basket followed by a pair of the queen’s royal knickers, trimmed with golden thread. Sophy made a grab for them but they flew through the arched doorway into the Banquet Hall, chased by the gathering wind.

More clothes and sheets sailed into the hall as the wind became wilder. Stormy gusts whipped past Sophy, heading straight for the queen and her favourite knight.

The queen gasped and clutched her crown. “What’s happening?” she cried. “Is this some kind of spell?”

“I will defend you, Your Majesty!” Sir Fitzroy drew his sword, only to have it knocked from his hand by the wind.

Sophy’s eyes widened. Five small whirlwinds were snaking across the hall, twisting and turning as if they were dancing. The silverware rattled on the banquet table and the royal tablecloth flew upwards, scattering pie crumbs everywhere.

The queen caught sight of her knickers sailing up to the ceiling and shrieked, “Do something, Sir Fitzroy!”

Sir Fitzroy didn’t reply. His black robe had blown right over his head and he was too busy trying to fight his way out of it.

“Cloudy, are you making it windy on purpose this time?” whispered Sophy.

Cloudy popped up from beneath the last sheet in the basket. “Yes, I am!” he beamed. “The nasty man shouldn’t shout at you like that.”

Sophy’s throat tightened. No one had ever
stood up for her like this before!

The five whirlwinds twirled on, rattling the royal pictures in their frames and making chairs slide across the floor. Now all the laundry was caught up in the twisters, spinning and dancing all over the place, leaving Cloudy completely uncovered.

Sophy put down the basket and grabbed the little dragon. Sir Fitzroy was still tangled up in his robe and the queen was trying to catch her royal knickers. This was their chance!

“You’re amazing,” Sophy told the dragon. “But we have to get you out of here!”

Running down the corridor, Sophy bolted through the front door into the night. Darkness closed around her as she held Cloudy tight. Her heart was racing. They’d almost made it! Now she just had to get over the drawbridge and past the gatehouse.

Dashing down the castle steps, she ran to the drawbridge but stopped short when she came
to a locked gate. She peered through the gloom, feeling puzzled. Why had they locked the gate that led to the drawbridge? She couldn’t even see the wooden bridge on the other side. There was nothing but empty blackness.

A feeling of horror swept over her. The drawbridge wasn’t there. Sir Fitzroy must have ordered the guards to pull it up. And the drawbridge was the only way across the moat.

She and Cloudy were trapped.

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