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       Gruffen, p.1

           Chris D'Lacey
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  338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH

  Orchard Books Australia

  Level 17/207 Kent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000

  First published in 2009 by Orchard Books

  This ebook edition published in 2011

  ISBN 978 1 40831 537 8

  Text © Chris d’Lacey 2009

  Illustrations © Adam Stower 2009

  The rights of Chris d’Lacey to be identified as the author and Adam Stower to be identified as the illustrator of this work have been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

  All rights reserved.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  Orchard Books is a division of Hachette Children’s Books, an Hachette Livre UK company.

  Chapter One


  For the third night running, Lucy Pennykettle’s startled voice came echoing out of her bedroom. Along the landing, in her workplace known as the Dragons’ Den, Elizabeth Pennykettle put down her paintbrush, wiped her hands on her artist’s smock and went to investigate.

  “Lucy, whatever’s the matter?”

  Lucy lay quivering under her duvet. She had it pulled up so tight under her nose that only her head, her fingers and two bunches of straw-coloured hair could be seen. “It’s here,” she gulped. Her gaze slanted towards one corner of the room.

  “What is?” said her mum.

  “The monster,” said Lucy, in a muffled voice.

  Mrs Pennykettle gave a quiet sigh and sat down on the edge of the bed. She rested her hands in her lap and looked thoughtfully at her daughter. Lucy was only nine years old. She was a bright and clever child with a strong imagination. She loved stories and was fond of making them up. She could make up a story out of anything, in fact: a missing glove, a pebble on the beach, or even a shadow creeping up the wall…

  “Lucy, we talked about this,” her mum said. She pointed to a chink in the billowing curtains. Just beyond the open window, the light from the lamp in Wayward Crescent was glowing brightly through the sycamore trees, throwing criss-crossing lines and patterns into the room.

  Lucy shook her head. “It’s not branches, Mum. The monster flies. It jumps about. It’s fast. It turns. It flits!”

  “Flits?” Mrs Pennykettle repeated, thinking that was an interesting thing for a “monster” to do. When she was a child, monsters (or shadows) usually plodded through her imagination.

  Lucy pulled down the duvet and went on in a fluster, “Sometimes it’s big and sometimes it’s small, on the ceiling and round the wall!”

  “Very poetic,” said her mum.

  “I mean it,” said Lucy, looking quite serious. “Close the window. Sew up the curtains. It might get in and steal me – or eat me!”

  Mrs Pennykettle’s gentle frown suggested she didn’t think either of those things was terribly likely. She didn’t think a monster was very likely, either. But it was unusual for Lucy to be quite so adamant. So, sweeping her red hair behind one ear, Elizabeth went to the window to check.

  In the lamplight, the Crescent looked as beautiful as ever. Autumn was almost over and there was barely a leaf left hanging on the trees. A leaf was probably the culprit, she decided. One single piece of copper-coloured sycamore, fluttering madly in the wind, desperate to complete its seasonal cycle and fall into the road along with the others. She suggested this to Lucy, who replied rather sparkily, “Mum, I’m not scared of leaves!”

  “Come and look,” said her mum, not about to give up on her theory yet.

  Nervously, Lucy came to stand by her side, just in time to see a large old leaf go dancing on the wind past the globe of the lamp.

  “Now, quickly, turn and look at the wall,” said her mum.

  And sure enough, when they looked, there between the wardrobe and Lucy’s mirror was a large, creepy fast-moving shadow. It could have been a monster – if you were nine, thought Mrs PennyKettle.

  Lucy huffed and let her shoulders droop. She squeezed her pillow (which she’d brought out of bed just in case she needed any serious protection) and said, “But, Mum, I thought it had wings.”

  “Well, if it did,” said her mum, guiding her back to bed, “it was probably an angel, come to watch over you.”

  And that was that. Lucy climbed back in, her mum kissed her goodnight and went back to the den, and the house settled down into silence once more…for all of thirty seconds.

  Then there came a yell so loud that Mrs Pennykettle squeezed on her clay too hard and gave the dragon she was making a silly squashed snout. She hurried back to find Lucy hidden under the duvet.

  “What happened?” she demanded, glancing at the wall. There was nothing to be seen.

  But Lucy insisted the monster had returned. “I saw it, behind the curtains!” she shouted. “It had a tiny head and ears – and teeth!”

  Mrs Pennykettle plonked her hands on her hips. “Right, there’s only one way to deal with this,” she said. “Grab your hot water bottle. Tonight, you’ll sleep in my room – and tomorrow…” she paused and played with her hair a moment, “tomorrow, I’ll make you a dragon.”

  The duvet rustled. Lucy’s head popped out. “A special dragon?” she asked rather hopefully.

  Her mother raised an eyebrow, which always meant “yes”. “A very special dragon. A guard dragon,” she said.

  Chapter Two

  Elizabeth Pennykettle had been making dragons from around about the time that Lucy had been born. She made other things too: pots and mugs and decorative plates, but dragons were what she loved and dragons were what she was best known for.

  Every dragon that came out of Liz’s “den” was moulded from a soft grey clay which had been dug from a quarry in the west of England, though it’s precise location was always kept a secret. A dragon could be found in every single room of the Pennykettles’ house. They sat on windowsills, mantelpieces, tables and shelves. There was even one on the fridge in the kitchen and another – you would have to say ‘fragrant’ dragon – on the cistern of the toilet in the bathroom upstairs. Visitors to 42 Wayward Crescent could not help but touch and admire them. They would pick them up and coo at them and sometimes offer to buy them. Often they’d remark how lifelike they looked. This always made Liz and Lucy smile, because they knew something their visitors didn’t – but we’ll come to that in a moment.

  Everybody knows, or thinks they know, what a dragon looks like. In most people’s minds they are scaly and fierce, with saliva dripping from their terrifying jaws. They have fearsome claws, sharp enough to tear through leather or wood. Their teeth are enormous and they breathe out fire. They are deadly and dangerous. People are usually quite frightened of them.

  The dragons of Wayward Crescent were nothing like the fearsome, scaly monsters that people usually imagine. Liz’s dragons were friendly. Not cute, but charming. The kind of creatures you would want to take home to look after and keep especially dear to your heart. They all looked similar, but none were quite the same. Tiled green scales, spiky wings and oval-shaped eyes were their most common characteristics. Big flat feet and a curving tail were also popular, so that they could stand on a solid surface and look their maker – or their owner – in the eye. They occupied every shelf in the Dragons’ Den, though most of them didn’t stay there long. This was because every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoon, Liz would take some into Scrubbley, her local town, and sell them on a market stall. But occasionally – and it has to be said that this was quite rare – Liz made what she called a “special” dragon. These were never sold. These were very different. These were…well, we’ll come to that in a moment, too.

  Special dragon
s looked the same as all the others. Indeed, anyone admiring the dragon with big ears which sat on top of the fridge in the kitchen would not have known it was a listening dragon, capable of picking up all sorts of noises, including human voices. Anyone passing the frowning dragon with a duster in its paws at the top of the stairs would never have guessed it was a snuffler dragon, which did a bit of cleaning when no one was looking. And the two impressive dragons Gawain and Guinevere which sat on Liz’s workbench in the Dragons’ Den had a very special role to play. But that we have to keep a secret for now. That is the subject of another story.

  But how did it happen? How did Mrs Pennykettle make her dragons special or not? Well, there are as many mysteries surrounding Liz and Lucy as there are secrets about Liz’s strange clay figures, but this is the time to reveal one of them.

  Liz had a snowball in the fridge. That’s right, a snowball. She had kept it since she was a little girl and it had magical properties.

  On the day she made her guard dragon for Lucy, Mrs Pennykettle did as she always did. She placed a generous wodge of clay on the turntable on her bench, smoothed it down with a small amount of water then closed her eyes and let her hands glide around it. Like Lucy, she had a strong imagination. But it was something far more magical, far more dreamlike which guided her skilful thumbs and fingers to make the shape of her special dragons. Having said that, this particular dragon did come out quite ordinary looking. It was a “he”. A youthful, handsome he, with the usual spiky wings and big flat feet. But, and this was quite a big “but”, when Elizabeth opened her eyes to admire him there was something else there along with her dragon.

  “What’s that?” whispered Lucy, looking over her mum’s shoulder. She pointed at something under his feet. It was common for Liz’s special dragons to have some kind of object in their paws, but even Lucy had never seen one sitting on something before.

  Liz leaned back and tapped her fingertips together. “It looks like a book,” she said.

  “A book?” snorted Lucy. She’d been expecting her guard dragon to have boxing gloves or a stick or at the very least scary teeth. A book! How was that going to protect her against a monster?

  “Go and fetch the snowball,” her mum said anyway.

  Lucy scooted downstairs to the fridge. The snowball was in a plastic box in the bottom drawer of the freezer. Lucy’s heart quickened as she picked it out. Neither she nor her mum truly understood the power of the ice inside this box. But what did that matter? It worked. It somehow put a spark of life into the clay. And today it would work again.

  Lucy hurried upstairs and handed the box over. It was important that this part of the process be done quickly. For snowballs, even magical ones, can quickly melt in the warmth of the home (especially when the home is heated by dragons).

  Liz prised off the lid. A wisp of icy vapour rose into the Den. In one or two places along the shelves, several dragons let out a Hrrr of awe.

  With the tip of her little finger, Liz broke off a tiny piece of ice and brought it into the open air. It glinted in the light of her angle-poise lamp. She handed the box back to Lucy, who immediately closed the lid. Lucy gulped and held her breath as her mum put the ice on the end of the dragon’s snout. Within seconds it had melted and run inside his trumpet-shaped nostrils.

  Mrs Pennykettle smiled and carefully twisted the turntable round, until the new dragon was facing the dragon, Guinevere. “Time to go,” Liz said in a quiet voice, and guided Lucy towards the door.

  From the doorway, Lucy took a quick glance back. Guinevere had opened her eyes. They were radiant and purple and shining with fire. Lucy clamped her hands to her breast and whispered, “Please make him the best guard dragon ever, Guinevere.”

  “Go,” said Liz, softly but firmly.

  And Lucy dared not argue. She blew the new dragon a heartfelt kiss and closed the door of the Dragons’ Den.

  Chapter Three

  For the next two nights, Lucy slept in her mother’s room. She was still too frightened to stay in hers and the new guard dragon needed to be kilned. Kilning was the process which made the clay firm and brought out the greeny-blue colour of the glaze. It took, on average, two or three days.

  On the third morning, Lucy was settled at the kitchen table, colouring in pictures of woodland creatures when the listening dragon twizzled its snout, looked down from the top of the fridge and went, Hrrr.

  Lucy sat up like a meerkat. She abandoned her pencils and went running down the hall. “Mum,” she shouted. “He’s done!”

  Liz came out of the front room and together they hurried upstairs to the Den.

  There, on the turntable, was a lovely young dragon, beautifully glazed. Guinevere’s eyes were now closed again. She had gone back to her resting stance, with her paws pressed together as though in prayer. The new dragon’s eyes were green and wide open, but as still and solid as the rest of his body.

  Liz smiled and put her mouth up close to his ear. Hrrr, she went softly.

  A puff of smoke came out of the dragon’s nose. He shook his head, spluttered a smoke ring and blinked. When he opened his eyes again they were a light shade of purple.

  “Hello,” Liz said in dragontongue – a forgotten language that you and I would probably not understand, but any young dragon would.

  “Gurrr,” went the dragon.

  “Is he growling?” asked Lucy.

  “More like hiccoughs,” said her mum. “He’s just trying to find his spark.”

  “Gurrr-urr,” went the dragon again. By now he had spotted the dragons on the shelves and his eyes had grown even wider still. He was either quite shocked or quite excited, but at that stage it was difficult to tell.

  “What shall we call him?” Lucy whispered, anxiously biting her lip.

  Liz tilted her head. “He’s going to be a house dragon,” she said. “Neither yours nor mine. So we’ll let him decide. We’ll call him by the first word he speaks.” She tickled the youngster under his chin. That seemed to do the trick. Half a second later, the dragon sneezed and made a sound that was like a cross between a grizzly bear growling and a dog huffing.

  “Gurrr-uffen,” he went.

  “Gruffen,” shouted Lucy, clapping her hands. “His name is Gruffen.”

  Liz smiled and ran her hand down the dragon’s spine. “Hello, Gruffen. Welcome to the Dragons’ Den.”

  Gruffen wrinkled his snout the way dragons often do. Above his eyes were two curved ridges, a little like eyebrows. Like eyebrows, they suddenly came together in a frown.

  “He looks confused,” said Lucy. “Say hello again.”

  Liz bent close to Gruffen’s ear and said, “I’m Elizabeth, and this is Lucy.”

  Strictly speaking, it wasn’t necessary for Liz to introduce them, for the new dragon had what is known as dragon ‘auma’. In other words he could share thoughts with the other clay dragons around him, all of whom knew Liz and Lucy, of course. But Liz did it because it seemed proper and courteous, and dragons, even young ones, appreciate good manners.

  Gruffen, however, still seemed puzzled. He flicked his tail and looked down at his feet. His ears pricked up when he saw his book.

  “Ah,” said Liz, “I think we’re about to find out what that’s for.”

  Gruffen stepped off it and picked it up. It was an old-fashioned leather-bound book, in two bold shades of cream and brown. Etched in gold letters along the spine was its title, which Gruffen read aloud (in dragontongue).

  “Book of Dragon Procedures?” Lucy translated. “Why does he need one of those?”

  Liz hummed in thought. “Well, he is very young. He won’t have much… experience, I suppose. Maybe it was asking a lot of the ice to send us a friendly guard dragon.”

  “Friendly?” sighed Lucy. “Mum, he’s supposed to fight off monsters!”

  They looked at Gruffen again. Still frowning, he turned his book over and blew dust off the closed and ancient-looking leaves.

  When he opened it, Lucy was quick to see that it seeme
d to be some kind of dictionary, with sections marked out in alphabetical order. Gruffen flipped through the pages, A, B, C, until he stopped at D and the heading: Den, The Dragons’.

  Lucy joined him and read the page aloud. “Dragons’ Den: birthplace, sanctuary, home. To be guarded always, especially from persons not believing in dragons.”

  “Gosh,” said Liz, “that’s impressive.”

  “Look up ‘monsters’,” said Lucy.

  Hrrr? went Gruffen, who had no experience of monsters, of course.

  “M,” said Lucy impatiently. “Muh.”

  Gruffen turned to the section marked by the letter ‘M’. There was nothing there yet.

  Lucy threw up her hands. “How’s he going to protect me if he doesn’t know what to do?”

  Hrrr? went Gruffen, obviously anxious that he’d failed before he’d even started. He flipped through his book to the letter ‘G’. Surprisingly, there was an entry for himself. In dragontongue he muttered, “Gruffen: guard dragon. Tasks: to watch and learn and boldly protect.”

  “There you have it,” said Liz. “That’s the key. When you go to bed tonight, he’ll be there to watch and learn. He needs to know what he’s fighting before he can be a true guardian, doesn’t he?”

  “I suppose so,” said Lucy, though she didn’t seem convinced.

  Gruffen hurred bravely and snapped his book shut. A pother of dust came out of the leaves, sending him into a sneezing fit.

  Lucy rolled her eyes and walked away.

  She could foresee another sleepless night ahead.

  Chapter Four

  For the remainder of that day, Gruffen followed Liz and Lucy around the house. There was much to see and learn. He particularly liked the kitchen with its view of the garden and he was fascinated by the spare room next to it, which was full of interesting bits of clutter. But on the whole there seemed to be nothing much to guard. The house was at peace, so were the dragons, so for the most part were Liz and Lucy. At midday, there was one quick moment of excitement when some things called envelopes fell through a rectangular-shaped hole in the door. Gruffen immediately jumped on the envelopes and spiked the biggest with his tail to be sure it wouldn’t cause any trouble.

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