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With 23 Days to go, of the highest contributions or raised contributions among the next SIX backers on Indiegogo one person will also own this wonderful Fire Cutter by Yasmin Foster. You can do that right now by going to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dragon-in-the-post/x/8028980

Thanks so much Yasmin and other frolics to come. – Contacted local papers, cutting the flying film and training for South Downs Walk! Hope you all had a lovely weekend but we need to up the intensity and contributions. PA PRESS

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At 50% funded come and help crowd fund this story into a real book, not an Ebook, and sent to you in the post. You can have your name posted here and in the front of the actual book, while you can visit the Indiegogo project right now by CONTRIBUTING HERE


Yet there was one figure in the great kitchens that seemed to take an interest in the three of them that day – Herbert the Kitchen Phoenix. In between his food tastings and his endless tears at the slaughter taking place, the strange bird would suddenly swoop over and check Gareth’s Correcting, or nod as Sarissa strained at the spit, or look on approvingly as fat little Sao finished another batch of dirty plates. He seemed to like the three of them.
They all wondered how the bird moved around so fast, steam coming from his ears, since he seemed so ancient and his feathers kept moulting everywhere. The activity in the kitchens was frantic, and soon several of the scullies were in tears too, at their treatment by the Cooks, but Bouchebold seemed oblivious to it all and in a very good mood.
Until something terrible happened. Gareth had put down his chopping knife, as his arm was aching so much and suddenly noticed those two crates, now marked VERY DANGEROUS.
Well, he had seen too much already to be put off by this, not least his Godfather’s Very Dangerous Book, so when Gareth was sure no one was looking, he slipped over to take a peek.
Both had large white cloths over them and Gareth decided to look at the delivery from the Dark Wood first. He peeled back the cloth and inside were heaped luscious looking berries, a bit like blackberries, except a deep, dark red, and next to them, the strangest looking mushrooms he had ever seen.
They were huge blue-green toadstools, that seemed to have orange eyes in the top of them, which seemed to blink every now and then and stalks of the purest, nastiest looking black. Gareth noticed a sharp scent, coming off the berries, that made his eyes water and as he leant nearer to smell them, pulled back, because a terrible scene had just flashed in front of his eyes.
Gareth Marks thought he saw an animal, like a wild boar, in a wood, throwing up its head, as it crashed to the leafy ground with an arrow in its side. Then the poor creature was on its back, kicking its legs and blood was everywhere, soaking into the soft ground, as little bushes, with berries on them, bloomed from the earth. Gareth hurriedly pulled the cloth over the nasty things, as he thought he saw one of those toadstools quiver and turned to the second crate. A strong smell of salt and sea was filling the air now and, gingerly, Gareth pulled back the cloth, to see five enormous fish. They were like silver Sea Bass, although they had giant rounded heads, and, the strangest thing of all, they seemed to have lizard’s feet too, just below their fins.
Gareth noticed the crate was swimming with water but it was the magical sheen on their scales, silver, red, and a flashing turquoise, that made the boy reach out and touch one, with his forefinger, to stroke it lightly.
As soon as he touched the wet, Gareth felt a jolt run up his arm, as if he had put his finger to an electric socket, at home. Then the strangest feeling washed over him. At first it felt wonderful, like a sudden exhilaration, yet, with it, came an enormous sadness. Gareth’s eyes were suddenly dark, and he could hardly breathe. The sadness, that made him think of Herbert’s tears, was followed by thoughts of his dad, and then his horrid stepfather, and a terrible feeling of anger enveloped him, that made Gareth want to scream.
Then all these feelings were flooding over Gareth at once. He felt as if he was drowning, and in his mind he was underwater, while all around him were shadows of the strangest creatures imaginable. Dark, unformed shapes, flashed past his sight, and his eyes were stinging, as if washed by chlorine in a public swimming pool.
Now Gareth felt an impossible sense of despair too, and was falling, sinking, deeper and deeper, drowning, but he sensed what lay below had no end. It was like passing through the Seer Guard again.
He heard a screech, felt something hard below him, that hurt, but still he was falling, as if being sucked downwards, into the dark, with only the dim sense of sunlight somewhere very high above, getting fainter and fainter. Gareth felt he wanted to die in that moment, to give up, above all to stop the terrible, uncontrollable feelings washing through his being. Yet he felt water on his face, just specks, and could suddenly breath again, and his eyes began to clear.
He saw the Kitchen Phoenix first, hovering high above him, shaking its head and crying, and then Sarissa and Sao were peering down at him too.
“Gareth, are you ok? What happened?”
Gareth remembered thinking what a nice face Sarissa had when she smiled like that, but suddenly he was back, awake, on the hard floor, and now Bouchebold was glowering down at him too, pulling Sao and Sarissa aside.
“Get up, boy,” the Dragon chef bellowed.
Gareth struggled to his feet and looked around guiltily. The whole kitchen had stopped work to look.
“It’s lucky you only touched some water from the Foundless Sea,” said Bouchebold gravely, “and didn’t eat one of those DeathBerries. You’d have been dead on the instant. You have to soak DeathBerries for days, to take the poison out. So to turn them into Bloodberries.”
Gareth gulped.
“If one of those ToadShrooms had woken, and hopped out, they could have got into the grounds, and sown themselves all over the place. They can make people see the strangest things.”
Gareth looked nervously towards the first crate.
“As it was we nearly lost you though,” said Bouchebold, “Only Herbert’s tears brought you back again. No salt in them, only healing.”
Gareth looked gratefully at the old bird, who had perched on top of a casserole dish, the same colour as its feathers. He seemed to be smiling.
Sarissa and Sao were looking with great concern at their friend too
“But if I just can’t trust you to take orders,” scolded Bouchebold, “you haven’t a chance working for me, lad. You’re demoted, right now, to the lowest kitchen Peel Stacker. I’ll think of a real punishment later.”
Bouchebold was looking over to a filthy pile of potato peelings being gathered in a corner.
“Yes, Dragon Chef,” said Gareth miserably, still feeling shaky on his feet.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” boomed Bouchebold, immediately.
Gareth saw the look of terror on the Choppers’ faces and remembered the term he was not supposed to use down here.
“Dragon Chefs?” bellowed Bouchebold furiously, “We’ve no filthy Dragon Chefs in Pendolis.”
Bouchebold had grabbed a huge ladle and seemed about to strike Gareth with it, but he slammed it against the counter instead, again and again, until it bent in two.
“Those lying, preening, self-regarding frauds. With their Blue Ribbons and their smug recipes, and their nasty little self-serving club. It’s all about Gold and Celebrity, nothing else, while half of them couldn’t cook a boiled egg properly.”
Herbert the Kitchen Phoenix had started to cry again to sob, but Bouchebold glared dangerously at Gareth.
“Out of my sight, underling,” he cried, “before I boil you alive in sizzling rabbit fat.”
One of the Choppers had grabbed Gareth’s arm, and was pulling him hurriedly towards the potato peelings.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered kindly, “he’ll calm down soon enough. There’s too much to do, today.”
“But why does he get so…”
“Upset? Because they denied him the Blue Ribbon, of course,” said the Scully, “The greatest accolade in all Blistag. When he was a Dragon Chef himself.You can only enter if you’re a Three Tail Chef, anyway.”
“He was one?”
“Oh, yes, and to none other than the Black Warlock. Before he got quite so dark. Bouchebold hates to talk about it.”
The scully had said this in a whisper but Gareth suddenly felt there was a grave mystery about this Bouchebold.
“It’s a wonder the Dragoman took Bouchebold in at all. But he does like his deserts.”
With that, they heard a scream, from somewhere down those passageways.
“What was that?” said Gareth.
“They’re probably torturing that mute, who brought in a FireCutter, to get him to talk.”
“But that’s silly,” said Gareth, thinking Pendolis horrid indeed, “if he’s mute, he can’t…”
“Don’t do to ask too much here,” said the scully gravely.
Like the others, Gareth got to work again, though among the potato peelings now, near a cook who seemed to be working on a pudding, with a veritable Cornucopia of strange ingredients, that kept drawing the twelve-year-old’s attention away from his peelings. While Bouchebold calmed down rather sooner than he might because the First Cook was suddenly looking towards the pass.
A Lady was standing there, one of the Dragon Maidens, in her high collared red velvet gown. It was the beautiful raven haired girl, they had noticed on the balcony.
“My Lady Mordanna,” piped Bouchebold immediately, pulling out a handkerchief and mopping his brow, then giving a very low bow.
“Good Bouchebold,” said the maiden softly, dipping her head gracefully, “Lord Cracken sends his regards, but wished me to inform you we’re gathering in the great hall. I wanted to see the kitchens too, I admit.”
“Yes, my Lady. And everything is perfectly on time. We’ll serve the Dragoman’s favourite pudding too, tonight. Bloodberry soufflé.”
Mordanna looked rather amused but she was suddenly looking about the kitchen and her eyes had fallen on Sarissa Halleet, looking embarrassed and resentful at that spit.
She smiled rather kindly, then she swung her head to take in Sao, and finally Gareth. The jewel held on forehead, by that necklace, or headlace, sparked in the light of the glowing kitchen fires.
The Dragon Maiden looked very out-of-place in a kitchen, but as she stood there, something strange happened. It was as if all the stove fires flickered and dwindled at once, and a shadow passed over the room. Gareth saw the glow from that archway increase, and wondered again if a Dragon was lurking beyond.
Bouchebold suddenly looked very worried too, as a lost, faraway look came into the Dragon Maiden’s deep, dark eyes.
“Strangers,” she whispered suddenly, in an even stranger voice, “Strangers, here in Pendolis, beyond the Seer Guard. They are important though. Vital in the Dragon Wars. The Prophecy comes, but there is evil among us already from the Black Warlock himself. The Seer Guard shall be breached. Something new is happening, born this very day.”
As Gareth listened, he felt those feelings overcoming him once more, but the stoves blazed in the kitchens again, and the shadow had passed. Mordanna was blinking, as if quite unaware of what she had just said.
“Well, Bouchebold,” she cried cheerfully, “I can’t wait to try your delicious food. The Dragon Warriors are starving.”
The Dragon Maiden turned and swept away, as all the kitchen staff looked rather warily at the First Cook.
“What are you all gawking at,” Bouchebold cried, “you know they can’t remember, when they’ve just prophesied. Now hurry up, we must get the food to the Pass.”
So they began to serve the dishes they had prepared that day, in a frantic flurry of activity. Suddenly starters were moving towards the Pass, to be taken upstairs, by eager servants in gold tunics.
Gareth’s mouth began to water furiously, as he saw that array of food; delicate Sweetmeats, slices of honey coated ham, terrines of liver pate in Brandy, and quails eggs, on a bed of delicate green and red leaves.
All the while, Bouchebold was sweating, shouting out orders, and this time Gareth wished he had forgotten him, because every time Bouchebold caught sight of Gareth he scowled furiously. Gareth thought of some punishment to come and knew that if he could not make up for himself, he would have a very hard time of it indeed, in the great kitchens of Pendolis.
His fear got worse, when he went to collect some soggy potato peelings and knocked over a little jar, of the most horrid looking brown liquid that tipped straight into one of the waiting dishes.
He caught hold of the thing, just in time, and felt he should tell someone but to his horror someone snatched up the dish and hurried it away towards the Pass. But so the main courses were sent up to the rooms above too. Great trays of what looked like sliced Rhinocerous. Platters of rabbit casserole, with duck hearts, chickens and beef, and fishes, and enough food to satisfy an army.
Now the desserts began to move. Oranges in caramel, strangely coloured jellies, delicate sugar biscuits, a huge bowl of red, orange and green triffle, someone said was called The Painted Dessert and all seemed to be going well, until Bouchebold wandered over to the cook nearest Gareth and there was suddenly a terrible roar.
Bouchebold had just dipped his finger into whatever the man had been making.
“Wrong,” he cried, “disgusting. I can never serve Lord Cracken or the new Dragon Warriors that. That’s not a BloodBerry soufflé mix at all, you idiot. It’s ruined.”
Herbert had flown in now, to try the thing himself, and the scrutinising Phoenix shook his head mournfully.
“Well, Herbert,” said Bouchebold, “what’s wrong with it?”
This time the Phoenix seemed totally at a loss. A limp feather dropped from its right wing.
“Really, Herbert,” snapped Bouchebold, “are you losing your palette?”
“Excuse me, Sir,” said Gareth nervously.
“You,” snorted Bouchebold, as he turned to look at the twelve-year-old, “You dare to interrupt Bouchebold, after all you’ve…
“Er, I think it’s the Cinnamon Flour, First Cook,” whispered Gareth, “He didn’t put in any Cinnamon Flour. I’ve been watching.”
Bouchebold, not to mention the rest of the kitchen retinue, looked at Gareth Marks in absolute astonishment but Bouchebold suddenly blinked and beamed.
“Cinnamon flour,” he cried, “But of course. You’re absolutely right, young man. It’s missing Cinnamon Flour.”
Bouchebold hurried over to a large glass jar, and when he had added six heaped tablespoons of orange-brown Cinnamon flour, then tried the thing, he seemed back to his old self again.
“Redeemed,” he cried, looking fondly at Gareth, “You’ve redeemed yourself, all right. You’ll rise as high as a BloodBerry Soufflé, and work with Bouchebold himself, one fine day.”
Gareth was naturally delighted and Sarrisa and Sao were looking at him in amazement, wondering how on earth their friend had known. They did not see him carefully replacing one of the torn pages of Pendelion’s book in his pocket. At the curling top the fragment said – “Bloodberry Soufflé. A COUNTRY RECIPE.”
“Quick now,” cried Bouchebold, “into the oven, straight. With the reaction of the BloodBerries, especially ones we’ve been soaking for months, it’ll only take five seconds heat. Then it must be served piping hot, with Whipped Dandelion Cream.”
One of the scullies had opened a huge oven, like a terracotta pizza oven, with a stone and glass door and lit at the bottom by an open flame. But as he did so the flame went out. Not just in this oven though, for all the fires in the great kitchens, guttered and died.
“No,” moaned Bouchbold, “not now. It’s impossible.”
“What’s wrong, First Cook?” said Gareth, “Why have the stoves…”
“Dragon Gas,” answered Bouchebold sharply, “the Dragon Gas must have run out. It happens sometimes. They must have forgotten to fill the tanks, but the whole citadel’s fired on it. Pendolis runs on Dragon Power. Farty creatures that they are, especially fed on Buttersqueak, like our Dragon in the next chamber. My pet.”
Gareth wanted to laugh, for the glow beyond had disappeared, and he suddenly realised what that strange smell in the kitchen had been. The kitchen fires of Pendolis were lit by methane gas, from actual Dragons.
“It’s a disaster,” moaned Bouchebold. “We’ll be on bread and water for a month, if Cracken doesn’t get his soufflé. The first day of Dragon Training too, and the whole meal’s failed. I’m ruined, ruined.”
Bouchebold had suddenly stopped though and swung round to look piercingly at Herbert. The old bird suddenly appeared terrified and now it was shaking its beak furiously, and flapping its wings too.
“Oh yes, Herbert,” insisted Bouchebold, “It’s the only way now, my dear old friend. And besides, its near your time, anyway.”
Bouchebold stood back and was holding open the oven door. Herbert had a very resigned look on his face but he suddenly took wing and sailed inside. The Phoenix settled on the ledge, below the huge soufflé tin.
Bouchebold shut the oven door fast and Herbert sat there, peering back through the glass, tears streaming down his feathery face. Bouchebold was crying too but it seemed that his culinary artistry came before anything else.
“Hey, what’s happening, Gareth?” whispered Sao, who had wandered up too. He looked fit to drop.
“Not sure, Sao. The Dragoman wants his favourite pudding.”
Inside the oven the Phoenix had closed its huge eyes and started to quiver. It was as if it was turning itself on, because, suddenly, its wings and feathers caught fire.
The poor bird flared there, before their eyes below the soufflé, and suddenly there was a flash of intense light and flame. Herbert the Kitchen Phoenix exploded into flames, which licked up around the edge of the soufflé tin, and suddenly the dark red Bloodberry mix was rising over the top, as Herbert vanished in a puff of smoke.
Bouchebold pulled open the oven immediately. Below the risen soufflé, Bouchebold was pulling proudly out with a pair of mauve oven gloves, was nothing but a mound of glowing ashes, with a lonely, half burnt feather sticking out.
“A triumph,” cried Bouchbold, regarding the pudding fondly. “Well done, Herbert, cooked to perfection.”
“Poor Herbert,” said Sao sadly, “he’s dead.”
“Well, he looked exhausted anyway,” said Gareth, consolingly, “and he really couldn’t stop crying. Everything seemed to upset him.”
Bouchbold had hurried the piping hot soufflé into the hands of a server, but now he turned towards Gareth and Sao, as Sarissa wandered over.
“You’ve done well, lad,” he said admiringly, and Sao looked at his friend as adoringly as ever, “quite saved the day. So for you, and your friends here too, there shall be a very special reward.”
“Reward,” said Gareth sceptically, feeling utterly miserable for Herbert, who after all had saved his life, when he had touched the fish and the water from the Foundless Sea.
“Of course, Garnet. Tonight there’s extra cabbage, and tomorrow, you’ll be given the morning off. Back to work by elevenses, mind.”
“Tomorrow,” groaned Sarissa, “You mean we have to do all this again? I could sleep for a month. And my arm hurts.”
“You may go with the Stewards,” continued Bouchebold, “out into the countryside, and make sure the Dragon Gas is turned back on.”
“Thanks very much,” said Gareth half-heartedly.
“It’s hard and smelly work, fetching Dragon dung,” said Bouchebold, and he suddenly looked at Gareth sharply, “not to mention very dangerous.”
Sarissa was scowling furiously at Gareth now.
“But it will take you in sight of the young Dragon Warriors,” added Bouchebold significantly, “and their earliest training. Few get to see that, especially from the kitchens.”
Gareth Marks brightened immediately, and with that, they all saw it. The embers in the open oven stirred, and a bright red head popped up and looked around. Suddenly a winged shape exploded out of the oven in a shower of soot, flew into the air and settled safely on the top of the hob and shook itself.
“Hello, Herbert,” said the Great Bouchebold cheerfully, “Welcome back, and very well done. The Dragoman will no doubt reward your greatest sacrifice, too. Perhaps he’ll find you a lady Phoenix.”
The children laughed, for the little kitchen Phoenix was standing there, beaming stupidly, not a tear in its clear, sharp eyes. Its wings were as bright and fresh as if it had been new-born, which, of course, Herbert the Kitchen Phoenix just had!

David Clement-Davies Copyright Phoenix Ark Press

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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

What an astonishing day driving through the Meon Valley today to Phoenix Aviation in Lee-on-Solent, to take a very first flying lesson with the commendably calm and efficient CFI (Chief Flying Instructor) Steve Cockshott. Out of a perfect misty morning the plumping wheat fields were almost russet as the harvest begins here and the blue skies near crystal glass clear, skirting through lovely morning Hampshire. A very different experience then to the Air Ambulance that I once found myself stuck behind when I once drove to write about Accelerated Freefall, skydiving from 12000 feet in Kent. With little wind, until we landed, near perfect flying weather then, given a touch of royalty at the Argus gate to the airfield too when we learnt that Princess Michael of Kent was nipping in to do some work for the coastguard! Past the old hanger still labelled Overlord, from the war effort, the offices of Phoenix Aviation are housed inside the small control tower and there, with a confident handshake and the remark that he recognised me from the Dragon In The Post Indiegogo film, Steve took us into the briefing room for a quick lesson in Lift, Bernoulli’s Theorem, Ailerons, Control yoke, flaps and something reassuringly called a Stabilator, instead of an elevator on the tail. Basically it makes the 4 Seater Warrior plane we were going up in more stable.

So, when the red wooden model had been put aside, nerves began to calm as we crossed the runway and learned that reassurance is always about knowledge and the intimacy of being hands on. Phoenix have seven planes in all, including 2 microlights, and I was rather amazed to discover that you can reach the level of a solo flight after only 12 hours! But the first real thrill was climbing onto the wing and then into the cockpit, to belt up and don the headsets that allow everyone to communicate with each other and the control tower too. The training inside had taught us the basic movement of the rudder pedals, the brakes just above, you must never use until the last moment and the flaps, while Steve was very clear in showing us how things really and rather simply function. A marked contrast to the bewildering display on the instruments panel, which pilots only glance at, except in cloud, because awareness and real sight is the key, while you must navigate towards the horizon with something through that glass in front of you called a ‘Picture’. So, accompanied by some colourful Hampshire butterflies in the stomach, to taxiing down the short turn to the base of the runway, with nothing but a firm grip on the control yoke and the movement of those pedals. The engine had fired up and I learnt the foolishness of wearing my pointed spanish boots, as too-long toes brushed the brakes but no disaster happened. Then to a sharp turn and stop to check everything, a Roger from the tower and pushing the throttle forward to head down the take off strip. The routine exchange of “I have Control’You have control’, since every plane has dual controls, had returned that mastery to Steve, since no novice can take off or land, and soon we were near the 65 Knotts needed to take off. Chocks away.

So a novice pilot quickly learns, although there is a great deal to learn, that the art of flying is most essentially about the science, the effect of the wind moving at the right speed across the top of the curved wings, so producing reduced pressure above and the necessary ‘Lift’ to carry the 900 Kilogram Dragon bird into the sky. That you have to both know and rely on, because it is a far less dangerous exercise than driving and a very different kind of thrill to say taking to a racing car. It is all somehow dreamier, more peaceful, far more majestic. Then the enemy of the mind is always fear and an over active imagination, not exactly helped by the remark of a flatmate that morning that the average life expectancy of a pilot in the First War was 20 minutes! Not sure it is true, but no dog fights today. We have all experienced it in commercial aircraft but it is a far more thrilling thing too being in your own little cockpit, in potential control, feeling those racing vibrations and suddenly you are in the air, rumbling up a stairway to heaven, with a propeller flashing and breaking light before your eyes. Up to a thousand feet and then that “Picture” before us was like the most brilliant, dreamy oil painting, by a Master of the world and all there is.

The three of us were heading out across the Solent now, that edges the airfield, towards the Isle of White and the feeling and the day were glorious. The dwindling patchwork tapestry of fields, roads and houses below, the flashing white yachts cutting slashes of cotton white in the turquoise water, the super tankers hulking the flowing sea and then the majesty and complexity of clouds seen at eye level or below. The colours were magnificent. It felt like suddenly starring in It’s A Wonderful Life, as Steve said ‘you have control‘ and I was flying too, gently holding the nose and wings level, with a splendid bit of machinery thrumming around us. You really begin to touch the joy and power though when you start to turn a plane and bank, as Steve explained more about the controls, awareness and trimming, the deeper mysteries of pitch and roll, unchallenged by today’s weather, with the little wheel between our seats. When you are not in control you have you hands and feet lightly on, just to get the feel, especially when landing or taking off and begin to really learn what must eventually become instinctive. I was perhaps a bit stiff armed with nerves, because relaxation is key, but it began to come more and more, as I flew in towards The Needles, that remarkable display of eroded hard limestone cliffs at the nose of the white island and came back in a cloud riding circle. The Dragon was airborn and starting to learn! The sea was dancing flashing horse tails 2000 feet below us, those all important checks were made for any planes around, and much of the time you are simply cruising, able to chat quietly about a forty minute flight to Cherbourg, Steve’s business partner Frank or the 130 members the little club have. Neither are paid for what they do, the essential cost is fuel and landing fees and any extra goes to help the club. The rates are very competitive.

So we turned into towards the grass airstrip at Sandown, maintained by the £15 landing fee and the very English little cafe, in airfields here purely for the benefit of private aircraft. You come into land downwind, as you enter something called The Circuit, the imaginary rectangle that surrounds any airfield, as you contemplate the kind of holding pattern we have all experienced too. No delays in this case. Two other training craft were coming in, although it seemed more to me, and one not very well, but suddenly after forty minutes we were descending again towards lush green grass, like a large croquet lawn: 100 feet, 30, 5 and down, with very little bumping at all, although moles can be a problem. All far less dramatic than landing in the cockpit of an Airbus, as I did on one travel piece, but far more charming and liberating too. So to another little taxi and parking among the other drowsing craft. I think I had already decided, as had Jim, who came for a flight too and to kindly help make a little film, that after our twenty-minute break and cups of tea this flying thing was the thing. The only problem being the cost, which, to hit those 45 hours needed for a licence, can be around £9000, although it is quite a bit less to master a microlight. It was Jim who took the controls on the flight back, as I perched in the rear of the four seater, with a confidence perhaps increased by his own sailing skills and experience, because although the wind rules are different to waves, up there in the heavens much the same principles are involved. His face was glowing all the way.

Actually as we came back to land again on hard tarmac it wasn’t such enormous exhilaration that I felt, that had passed, but a sense of calm and of expanded knowledge too, that once you have mastered all the things you have to take on board, from actual flying hours to nine exams, it would be a wonderful thing to be able to fly and land your own plane, wondering more and more what it is like to be up there alone in the skies and in such glorious weather. Perhaps a little like flying with your Dragon! It was in all a very lovely experience, only added to as we raced home in the car but stopped at old Titchfield Abbey. I had no idea that extraordinary fortified monastery, dissolved by Henry VIII, became the Hampshire seat of none other than the Earls of Southampton and Henry Wriothesley, Shakespeare’s greatest patron. The bard could well have visited a stunningly beautiful ruin, then a magnificent functioning house, and so many things at Phoenix Ark Press seemed to coalesce. A project is flying then and has further to journey too.


If you enjoyed this article and are interested in trying to help crowd fund a book and a little publisher you can do so right now by clicking on HELPING A DRAGON FLY If you want to know more about Steve, Frank and the flying club then visit their website at http://www.phoenixaviation.net/ In the next few days we will edit the film and put it up here and in the Indiegogo gallery. The photos courtesy of Jim Plumridge show DCD in the cockpit mid air over the Solent, on the ground thanking Steve Cockshott warmly and with the wooden model in the classroom.

Come on, let’s all go flying!

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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

Anyone supporting the Dragon In The Post publishing project knows that one of the reasons I have chosen the Indiegogo Flexible Funding model is that I’m working during all this to bring my first and favourite novel Fire Bringer back into hard copy availability in the UK. That means some POD platform, Print on Demand, although it would be nice to try and get it back into bookshops too. It was published for 12 years and I still think Macmillan did not stand up enough for a book some think a classic and which Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, called one of the best anthropomorphic fantasies known to him..

But in that vein I just contacted the original artist for the book cover, Kenny Mckendry, who said it has brought him and his work much interest over the years and has kindly sent me photos of the original painting. The question to the Street Team then is should I go with an original, classic design or try and do a completely new edition? The painting is above, showing Rannoch as a young stag and you can visit Kenny’s website at http://www.kennymckendry.com

With our needing to get to 50% funding this week you can also see the Dragon In The Post project and support the campaign by CONTRIBUTING HERE

Thank you and going up into the skies today!


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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

Bollocks. F** off” Not exactly the sort of effortlessly witty retort that a Jane Austen would have a wandering Mr Darcy say to the young bloke who dared to suggest that the August Boomtown fair he and other working lads are preparing in the cradle of the South Downs way was the sort of thing that an old codger like me might enjoy. At least he was good enough to reply “that’s more like it. See you there then“, though when the hills start to thump and pump perhaps he has a point. Good on yer mate and go to hell! I was already prepared for the sight of a half built pirate ship on the hill, among the rising stages, past the near vacant farm lot where Juniper Enterprises let you drive tanks, to create a bit of local enterprise, from the bush telegraph of walking gossip along the ancient road, that I got my very first taste of today, in a ten-mile walk into Winchester. Walkers are a necessarily chatty lot, even the ones on mountain bikes and there were lots of hails and well mets in the first encounters. It’s to prepare already aching legs to help the Dragon In The Post campaign by walking the hundred miles from Winchester to Eastbourne.

Two miles up from the mad little village of …… then, where I’m staying in right now, I’d already decided that such a city boy knew nothing about this hale and hearty, horribly healthy living lark and was cursing myself for wearing heavy denim jeans instead of shorts, let alone Convertible Trousers. Ah me, the things these people have, though all the good climbing and hiking shops seem to have closed down in Winchester, like the soon to be closed Royal Hampshire County Hospital in the remorseless search for more groaningly wealthy real estate. But walking is about awareness, preparation, kit and being able to adapt to the wind and weather, the changing aspects of a landscape’s face, which today remained ravishing nearly throughout. There is very little that is hard about the South Downs Way and, as a mate said, you are rarely more than two miles away from the pub. God it was lovely to get up there though, out through the gorgeous Hampshire fields of near ripened wheat, curling in the breeze like a lass’s careless auburn hair, and to see how well-appointed the ancient track through the landscape is. A right turn by the big hay barn and on to a path that was not only the ancient thoroughfare from the south coast up to Winchester, the capital of the kingdom of Wessex, but which also crosses The Pilgrim’s Way, that I walked a little of to. That track between Winchester, east through South London to Becket’s shrine at Canterbury. Appropriate then for all the work on Edmund Shakespeare and Southwark at Phoenix Ark Press, not least because in the little discoveries about St Margaret’s Church in London and that seething tavern, brothel and theatre district where Shakespeare’s brother Edmund died in 1607, dominated by the Bishops of Winchester’s London palace, two of the most prominent grandees of the church were Henry Beaufort and William Waynflete.

Their huge sculpted tombs dominate that astonishing church behind the altar of Winchester Cathedral, in what many say is the heart of monied England and deeply conservative too. What you might expect from a church town which also houses a prominent British public school. Beaufort was of course an unreformed Prince of the Church, born in France in his beautiful fort and cousin and protector of the young Henry VI. That saintly, mad and vulnerable king at the heart of the Wars of the Roses, who plays such a critical role in Shakespeare’s Trilogy Henry VI, some of the first real English dramatised histories ever to be written and which heralded Shakespeare’s appearance on the London stage. In the play, when Beaufort confronts the Duke of Glouster with the threat of the pope he cries “Winchester Goose, I cry a rope, a rope!“, referencing that fairly unjust running theme about Winchester and Bishops profiting from those Elizabethan ladies of the London Streets, prostitutes called Winchester Geese. Then the old saying was ‘go a pilgrim, return a whore’. Beaufort certainly sired an illegitimate child and in Shakespeare is portrayed as dying cursing both God and Man, a sounding bell for Reformation attitudes. Waynflete is just as interesting though because, in a see that was second only in importance to Canterbury itself, he founded that most beautiful of Oxford colleges, Magdalene, became an elder Henry’s chancellor and also met the rebel Jack Cade in St Margaret’s Church in July of 1450, hard by the White Horse and Tabard Inns, on Long Southwark road. There he arranged a pardon for the rebels, who had marched into London off Blackheath and sacked the city, then fought a pitched battle across London Bridge, but as the forces quickly dissolved and he began to get an idea of who this mysterious Cade was, swiftly reneged on the deal, hunted him down and had his decapitated head paraded on a cart through the London streets. It would make a great film not least because Cade was a clear stalking horse for the Dukes of York and Essex and the rebellion, that also challenged Edward III’s laws on ta and the working age, in the Complaint of the Commons of Kent, really began the first English Civil War. Those were the days when the entire South Downs and East of England was of course so open both to pirates and French marauders, that saw such threat in the overspill of soldiery from the eventual failures of Henry V’s wars in France. Which also produced such corruption. bad governance and resentment against arbitrary power reflected in the so called Green Wax laws. Perhaps it all deserves a jolly pint of Bishops Finger though, that meaty ale so much in evidence down here at Rawlinson End, because the Pilgrim’s Way is marked by exactly that, a Bishop’s pointing finger. It is only approaching Winchester itself of course that you begin to feel how that ancient centre must have dominated everything, not only in the structures of faith and power, but as a centre for the English wool markets, of trade, learning and of legislation.

But back in the clouds, after a little picnic in the sunshine near Cheesefoot Hill, of smoked trout pate sandwiches, boiled eggs, vine tomatoes and a chile cheese that could blow you stinking hiking socks off,all washed down with Apple and ginger juice, these heroic steps were feeling decidedly springy, bucked by hares breaking out through the nodding barley, Emperor butterflies flashing off the gravel tracks and sunlight dashing brilliance off the cannon-shot clouds and the gentle ripple of the Downs southward. So naturally I forget everything that my flat mates had said and took a wrong turn away from St Catherine’s Hill that added a good three miles to the walk and brought the need for some real Bishop’s Finger. Never fear, beyond Tyfford Down and the odd Victorian Waterworks, I shortened with a guilty hitch hike courtesy of the Hampshire Highways man, until I decided I was breaking my own rules and he might be a cereal killer (pun intended), so got out and then another a trudge on tarmac into Shawford and a welcome slouch at the Bridge Inn.

There you can pick up the Itchen Way instead, that meanders so beautifully past that ravishing little river and walk the 3 miles straight into Winchester proper. It was there I started to see the need not to make too many rules about walking though, not too many deadlines or finishing lines, I mean, because the whole point should be both some achievement and the freedom and sheer discovery of it all. So I got a tiny sense of what medieval pilgrimages must really have been like too, when people set out into a dangerous and unknown world – in the relaxation of the shining river and the sudden encounters on the path, dancing with wild flowers, birds and giant Peter Rabbit Dock leaves; A wiry, bright-eyed gent proudly catching a pouting Grayling as silver as his shining hair, kids throwing themselves into a weir gushed pool, dripping, excited dogs chasing river sticks and the very strange fellow I caught texting in his roadside car, dressed like a Scout master, who advised me he does the walk every week.I met him standing in the bushes. Well, the Winchester Ashford road does conceal the biggest dogging site in Hampshire, so who knows?

No such nonsense on this walk, but the noisome hum and rush of another kind of road, on the shoulder of the curling Itchen, that hurtling stretch of the M3 Motorway that caused such a battle at Twyford Down, when they cut through one of the putative sites of King Arthur’s resting place at Sleeper’s Hill and the powers that be did not want their cricket pitch disturbed by views of traffic. It’s an odd feeling coming out of the miracle of sun freckled copses, light and shade, past neat lawns with devilish Gargoyles on the banks worthy of a Dragon In The Post, passed vaguely guilty looking woodland grazing cows, right under the M3 road bridge, graffiteed with a healthy phallus or urban love notes to whoever wos here, united for a time, back into the sheer lost gentility of Winchester.

But with your back on the M3 the nasty hum of modern hurry and worry, going nowhere, drops away again and I remembered that I had once been on the same train as Laurie Lee, as I passed St Catherne’s hill. That neolithic hill fort and later associated with St Catherine was also damaged in the motorway building, but has been restored and gave a sense of the astonishing history of the downs, with many sacred or numinous sites nestled in these hills. It also perhaps solved a little mystery of the Catherine Wheel, since there was once a water wheel here that dominated what is called the Itchen Navigation. Southwark of course had its Catherine Wheel tavern among the hundreds. So to the grounds of Winchester School and the skirting brick of Cathedral buildings appeared. That ancient target. People everywhere now, changing footsteps and at last the Bishop on The Bridge Pub, right by that statue of King Aelfred, Alfred the Great, who drove the Danes from Wessex and where the South Downs Way traditionally begins. A conundrum over a glass of cider then as to whether I should walk from Winchester or ‘home’ from Eastbourne, and only to discover that my lift back had changed his mind and is as unreliable as everyone else in bloody Hampshire. No, perhaps that’s not it, because country life is all about spaces and changes and these lot go on about things like tides and navigating different ways! On the other hand mate, have some Bishops Finger! Over five quid is far too much to charge for a five mile bus ride home too, but how could anyone complain on a day like that? Hmmm, gather the arnica and run a bath, then a flying lesson tomorrow at Phoenix Aviation to help the Dragon fly.

If you enjoyed this article or are interested in crowd funding a fairytale DRAGON IN THE POST, you can read part of on Facebook or at Wattpad.com and supporting a little publish too please visit and contribute now to the campaign up at Indiegogo.com by CLICKING HERE . The picture is a public domain image of King Alfred in Winchester. The Boomtown Fair runs from the 8th to the 11th of august.

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UPDATE: The crowd funded book on Indiegogo, you will get in the post, is now at a soaring 50%!

Well it can’t be all bad that in the Hampshire fundraising frolics this month there is now one of our posters trumpeting Dragon In The Post hanging in the home of one of the greatest novelists of all time, Jane Austen! The house is barely 10 miles from where I’m staying, in the gentle village of Chawton in Hampshire, so no writer worth his ink could fail to make the little pilgrimage to the charming home of the woman who changed the face of the English novel forever. There is little either quaint or twee about the way they have created an excellent museum there, where I committed an appropriate act of sacrilege by laying my hand on the writing table of Jane herself.

It was also a little treat to cross swords with one of her biographers, Deidre Le Faye, who I found with the house manager Ann Channon sitting on a bench in the lovely garden. Ann came as a cleaner 23 years ago and has now progressed to proud guardian, of a home and family story that can at times move her to tears. Behind a pair of magnificent coloured sun glasses Deidre meanwhile raised an understandably dragonish eye to my own efforts, and indeed ignorance about Austen, although also pointed out that in Austen’s day, and indeed from the days of Shakespeare and the first printed ‘Bookes’, these things were often done by private patronage or by subscription. So we are in fact in illustrious and honourable company! I did not know that Austen, who did not move from her home near Basingstoke to the house until 1807 and only updated some of her most famous works like Pride and Prejudice there, published anonymously or under the tantalising label ‘By a Lady‘. Never married, living in the house with her brothers for a time, who both became admirals in the British Navy, I was also astonished to learn that Jane died at the tender age of only 41, perhaps of tuberculosis. How sad.

Like ‘The Birthplace‘, the Shakespeare family home in Stratford On Avon, I’m not entirely convinced by shrines to writers, or what they exactly tell you about the landscape of the creative imagination, kingdoms to themselves. But it was lovely to wander round, to see that perfectly neat Austen handwriting, amid the delicate bonnets and recreated Georgian dresses, to hear Deidre dismiss with a disgusted snort the claim that one especially ugly portrait might be authentic, as her TLS article had long established, then to catch snatches of the fictional miracle in the facts of living that accompanied such a very realistic author: the face of an unctuous Mr Collins in a portrait one of her clerical relatives, or the confident echo of that immortal opening “It is a truth, universally acknowledged” in the often ironic pattern of her busy and practical letters. Then to the navy sword her brother Charles was given by none other than Simon Bolivar and the tale of how the trust brought home her little Turquoise ring last year, proudly displayed with two little Topaz crucifixes, replicas of which are soon to find their way into the groaning gift shop, filled with pricey Austen nick-nacks.

Like Chawton, that has more houses now but probably the same number of inhabitants as in Austen’s day, and so unlike the swelling new town of Basingstoke, that has helped to swamp glorious and astonishingly beautiful Hampshire with tarmac and Leisure Parks, it was all rather genteel, as the sun shone down in the pretty garden, through the graceful yew trees that have grown mightily since the days when Austen was relatively unknown and the younger saplings perhaps couched the house privy. A hungry young family of swallows dipped from their nest in the room beside the gift shop, as Deidre kindly signed a biography for me and a collection of edited letters, and with hope of my own project still very much alive, all seemed ordered and right with the world. Perhaps the spirit of genius will come along with us, but what our own magnificent £1900 would have been and done in Austen’s time! The family were never rich, incidentally, nothing compared to the likes of a Mr Darcy, although one of the brother’s was adopted by a finer family, so got to make it to one of the big houses. If Jane, who called one of her publishers a rogue, might have been bemused by crowd funding, the Internet or the plight of the modern author, I wonder what she would have thought of the flying machine that plans to take us skyward this Wednesday, or my efforts to walk the 100 miles of the South Downs Way. Perhaps her eye and pen would have thrilled at the richness of the Hampshire wheat fields at this time of year, the magic blue glint of a field of wild borridge across the rolling lanes and the numinous glow of the super moon that hangs in the night skies, or perhaps found more meat and matter in the simple facts of survival. If you want to visit Jane Austen’s House, that got 50,000 visitors last year, the times are below, or indeed if you want to support a modern author you can find a novel sent to you, in the post, by going to Indiegogo and BACKING THE PROJECT

David Clement-Davies July 2014

The photo is a pubic domain image of Jane Austen’s House Museum, which is at http://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/. The opening times vary throughout the year but it closes beteen 4.30 and 5pm. Tickets are £7.50 for Adults, £6 Senior Citizens and £2.50 for children between 6 and 16. Deidre Le Faye’s studies of Austen include Jane Austen – The World of her novels published by Frances Lincoln and Janes Austen’s Letters published by OUP.

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Thrilling to have old friends like Barb back again and supporting Dragon In The Post and we’re now at 42%! I hope you will come and join the fun too then, THIS WEEKEND, because some really lovely art is going up on Facebook and at the Indiegogo Gallery. Kelly Bakers’s Dragon painting above is one of the glowing examples. Because of that I have also made the core Street Team project editors too, who can put up their own ideas directly (passing it by Phoenix Ark first). If we could hit 50% funding by the middle of next week we are really flying but the conversation also begins about how much work it takes to bring people on board and if it can really be a working model in future for Phoenix Ark Press.

Meantime it’s into the skies and the wild blue yonder for DCD next week, who has arranged that very first flying lesson at Phoenix Aviation. We are waiting for the perfect weather to pick the day we fly to the Isle of White. Then the training begins to get in shape to walk the hundred miles of the South Downs way and blog the journey too to help bring support and raise funds too. But read the story as it unfolds to at http://www.wattpad.com/51779081-dragon-in-the-post

If you want to “Join the story and become part of the adventure” it is all explained in the film and project profile for Dragon In The Post by CLICKING HERE AND CONTRIBUTING



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To support the thrilling crowd funding book project happening right now at Indiegogo David Clement-Davies is taking to the skies next week (weather permitting) and blogging about his very first flying lesson, in a journey from Hampshire to Sandown, in the Isle of White. It will be at the aviation club there magnificently called Phoenix and you can check out some of the planes by going to http://www.phoenixaviation.net/ We are now flying at 39%, with a month to go, and many more fun projects planned, but we need every inch of your support, sharing and contributions, this weekend please!

Watch this page then, if you like the travel articles that will come from the project, including walking the South Downs Way or join the wonderful chats and artwork being put up on Facebook and in the Indiegogo gallery. But above all come in now and help the story of Dragon In The Post really take wing by contributing in fact and spirit. Thank you for all you support, welcome aboard and chocks away!

You can join the team at Dragon In The Post by Watching, reading and Contributing Here


ps The author takes a laconic attitude to the suggestion by one supporter that ariel disaster would at least produce posthumous fame. Too famous already, darling, though is a little worried about the names of planes like Icarus! The things an artist has to suffer these days for his art.

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With Dragon In The Post at an amazing 39% some of Sol’s wonderful bird pictures and Laura’s drawings have joined Kelly Baker’s work up at the Indiegogo gallery, which you can see by CLICKING HERE. Please enjoy them there or on Facebook and contribute to a campaign too.



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Gareth Marks was in a world of dream, or nightmare. On a mean little cot in a dingy basement in Pendolis where the 12-year-old was now sleeping he suddenly heard a soft, whispering voice in his darkened mind.
“Gareth, where are you, Gareth? I can’t even see you.”
At first the boy thought that it was his mum but the voice became clearer, delicate but strong and almost beautiful, and he saw his little dragon, the Firecutter, hovering before his eyes again.
“You must get out of there, Gareth, it’s not safe. No where’s safe any more. Not even Pendolis.”
The dragon’s mouth didn’t move at all but she was definitely speaking to him. Gareth Marks felt an awful ache and reached out to the little creature, but like a spirit, trying to escape capture, it flapped its blue wings, pulled backwards in the air, and was gone.
“NO. Don’t leave me. Not again.”
The 12-year-old woke with a jolt, shivering badly, and sat bolt upright, half expecting his step dad to be there. Instead he saw Sao Cheung standing at the end of his cot, smiling kindly at him, although his eyes were red and puffy, and he had obviously been crying.
He was holding some clothes in both hands and his Baseball jersey was gone. Instead, the Chinese American boy was wearing baggy moleskin trousers, leather sandals, and a kind of rough sacking, that looked like it was made of coconut hair with a big pocket at the front. It made him look slimmer.
“Hiya,” he said softly, blinking, “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Thanks, Sao.”
“Er. They brought us these,” said Sao, holding out the bundle of rough clothes, “They say they want us at work in ten minutes.”
“Work?” mumbled Gareth wearily, half thinking himself back in the flat in London. His back was aching.
“Scullies. Kitchen boys, I guess,” whispered Sao, “The twins have started Dragon training. I saw them through the window, this morning.”
“Morning?” said Gareth, “But how long have I been asleep, Sao?”
“Hours and hours. A whole day and night, and more. I had some really weird dreams. It was horrid.”
Gareth rubbed his eyes, got up and took the unpleasant outfit. He suddenly felt a pang of jealousy for the older twins, joining those tough looking Dragon Warriors, and wondered where Sarissa was. They had taken her to a different room, the morning before. Then Gareth thought of the poor mute boy, and his smuggled FireCutter. He shuddered.
“Gareth, er, it’s going to be ok, isn’t it?” asked Sao Cheung nervously. “Please.”
“Yes,” answered Gareth kindly, not knowing at all, “I promise.”
The poor eleven year old looked a little reassured.
“And I promise something else, Sao, I’ll find a way to get us all home. Somehow.”
“They left us some water and funny biscuits,” said Sao, more cheerfully now, looking to a battered metal tray, sitting on a wooden table in the corner. The room was like a stone cell, with a metal grill over the window. From the light outside, Gareth Marks guessed it was about mid day in Blistag.
“Go and have some, Sao,” said Gareth, yawning but trying to be the adult, “I’ll get changed.”
The 12-year-old boy was used to dealing with himself at home and pleased to get out of his pyjamas, and into some shoes, and proper clothes, although he made sure to collect all the pieces of the very dangerous book and stuff them in his front pocket. As Gareth turned there was a thumping on the thick wooden door that made them both jump.
“Scullies to the ready,” cried a gruff and angry voice. “Bouchebold is waiting and it he doesn’t like waiting.”
“Bouche…what?” whispered Sao nervously.
“Come on, Sao,” gulped Gareth, “Keep your eyes peeled and stick close to me.”
As the two boys pulled open the door and stepped outside into a narrow stone corridor, lit by burning braziers in brackets on the walls, they saw other scullions emerging from their rooms too. From their evident confusion it seemed they were just starting too. They were one or two grimy faced girls amongst them, although they were mostly boys, tall and older than Gareth and Sao, about ten of them in all. They were all silent and nervous, as they stood in their coconut sacking and they looked rather brow beaten and frightened.
Gareth grinned immediately, surprised how glad he was to see Sarissa again, as she came storming out of a door on the right, dressed like Gareth and Sao, although with a kind of white napkin on her head like the other two girls. Sarissa Hallet was addressing no one in particular but she kept looking around frantically.
“I demand to be sent home immediately. I’m Sarissa Hallet and I’ve got a tennis…”
Sarissa suddenly noticed Gareth and blushed and fell silent. He and Sao Cheung lined up beside her as a tall, thin scullion, marched up and down the line. He was about seventeen, with a mean, angry face and he looked at them all in utter contempt, with a definate hint of cruelty in his mean little eyes.
“Buttersqueak fodder,” he snorted scornfully and Gareth Marks wanted to run at him with his head, “Nothing but filthy Buttersqueak Fodder. But know yer place, right, and learn the rules around the Great Bouchebold. Do as you’re told, work yer fingers to the bone, keep quiet, and you’ll be rested and fed, more than water and biscuits too. I takes my cut, mind. Cry, steal, make wave, or mess up and you might be fed to a dragon instead.”
They all looked wretched and bowed their heads.
“But one tip, above all,” said the bullying scully, “While you’re working in the kitchens or anywhere near Bouchebold, never, ever mention Dragon Chefs, right? Now come with me.”
The chief scully turned on his heels and dutifully the ten of them followed down the dingy, flickering corridor, Sao, Gareth and Sarissa taking up the rear. The stone passages seemed to go on forever, as they traipsed along, sensing the weight of an entire citadel above them, and wondering what they were about to face. But at last they saw a blaze of light ahead and heard the sound of shouts and frantic voices, the bustle of hectic activity. The new scullions were all flabbergasted as they stepped into the open room.
The great kitchens of Pendolis were like a huge stone cathedral or a stone vaulted wine cellar, billowing out smoke and steam, like incense, lined with wooden work benches, above which, from metal racks, hung huge spoons and knives, colanders, kettles and saucepans and copper pots, that shone like evening gold.There were people everywhere, cooking over open flames, washing in great stone basins, like cattle troughs, or preparing food, from great mounds of fresh produce, piled everywhere.
In one corner was an enormous bench, completely clear, that opened beyond into a dark hall, while in another was a great stone archway that glowed with a dim orange firelight. A giant carcass that looked like a miniature rhinoceros was slow roasting on a huge spit in the centre of the kitchen as scullies stood around and basted it in oil and fat. But strangest of all the flames seemed to rise out of the ground, with no coal, or wood to feed it, and Gareth noticed a peculiar smell, slightly unpleasant, mixing with the many delicious scents he recognised around him.
To one side of the cobbled kitchen were lined bulging sacks and every now and then cooks would shout and scullies would run to the sacks to bring them more ingredients as they worked over their hobs, where flames seemed to rise magically too, since Gareth Marks was sure Pendolis hadn’t invented modern cooking methods.
The haze was like being in an old-fashioned train station and the place like a little citadel itself. The newcomers noticed that every now and then a cook would turn on the scullies though and shout, clip one over the ear, or give them a kick with a boot.They saw all this through the haze like a magical dream itself, but suddenly a huge shape loomed out of the steam, there was a sharp cry of HALT and everything stopped moving.
The most extraordinary man was standing there now in a shining white chef’s outfit, smeared with blood and gravy. Huge, not for his height, but his girth and his chubby, rubicond face. It was so hot and red it looked like a Halloween pumpkin with a blaze of shock white hair on the top, that made him look like a mad, but rather brilliant professor. His eyes were gleaming, although the strangest and purest blue and he was sweating profusely and looked rather angry. The scullies suddenly looked terrified, even their leader, because he was also holding a huge chopping knife in his gigantic, fat fingered hands. But the chef suddenly smiled and it was like the sun coming out.
“Here, now. The new recruits!” he cried, in a rather squeaky, high-pitched voice, “How very splendid. Der-licious. And so much to do today too. I am the Great Bouchebold and this is my little kingdom. We serve the entire citadel, of course, but we’ve a special banquet tonight, for the start of the season. The first day’s often the hardest so we must serve the young Dragon Warriors something tremendous.”
The Great Bouchebold had begun to walk up and down the row slapping that knife rather ominously into his sweaty palm and eyeing his new recruits.
“The Dragoman will be there too, of course, ‘the Man Upstairs’, who adores his food. Though little does he know who’s really in charge, since an army marches on it’s stomach, eh?”
Bouchebold grinned and winked and turned to look back at his little army, hanging on his every word now.
“The Dragon Maidens will be there too,” Bouchebold went on in his odd, breathless voice, glancing at Sarissa and the other girls, “and to please THEM, we’ll have have to be real magicians, tonight, even you scullies.”
The new kitchen scullions were trying to nod and look interested.
“You may not have been chosen as fit to be Dragon Warriors,” said Bouchebold, “but you’re still young, so worthy to do your bit in the kitchens, in the great fight. It’s a war down here too, remember, so just try to do as you’re told and we’ll all get on splendidly.”
The new scullies were all rather relieved since Bouchebold did not seem a bad sort at all, until he stepped up to each and began prodding them, tweaking their cheeks, feeling their biceps, or surveying them carefully, as if they were all the finest cuts.
‘Scrubbing’ he would decree, with a laugh, or ‘Peeling vegitables’, or ‘basting’.
As he did so the elder scully pointed to one part of the kitchen and they filed meekly away, until Bouchebold scowled at him and pointed to a sack of potatoes.
At last Bouchebold came to Sarissa, Sao and Gareth though and it was Sao he was suddenly scrutinizing carefully. At first Gareth Marks fancied there was some recognition at the podginess of the Chinese boy, until he realised he was looking at Sao’s eyes.
“Extraordinary,” the Great Bouchebold whispered with an odd little giggle, “most remarkable. We should send you to see the Great Naturalist. What can you do though, lad?”
Sao Cheung gulped and shrugged.
“Dish washing,” said Bouchebold immediately, looking at Sao’s stomach, “and no pinching food.”
“If I have to work here,” said Sarissa suddenly, straightening her back with immense dignity “I’m not washing or scrubbing, I assure you. I’m pleased to help you cook though. As a Sou Chef,” she added knowledgeably. “I’m nearly fourteen, you know.”
Sao gulped and ducked slightly while Gareth Marks looked nervously at that gigantic knife, but they both sighed with relief as Bouchebold roared with laughter and rocked back on his heels. The roar, it has to be said, was more like clattering saucepans and ended in a high-pitched squeal.
“How splendid,” he cried, “Really delectable. You’ve spirit, girl, and I always like that in the mix. Just can’t get the help any more, so I’ll trust you with some basting, today, if you can lift the ladles. But keep your pretty nose clean and learn, girl, then who knows, in a year or two you…
“A year,” cried Sarissa Hallet in utter horror.
“Time flies like Dragon wing in Pendolis,” said the enormous cook and even as he said it, Gareth thought, at the very far side of the kitchen, he saw something take to the air from a pile of plucked chickens.
Bouchebold was pointing now and Sarissa and Sao were already moving off towards their allotted positions, obediently, but the cook turned to Gareth Marks now. He did not speak for several moments though.
“Hmmm. There’s something keen in your eye,” he said, at last. “Some boldness. Discernment too, perhaps.”
Bouchebold suddenly flipped the huge kitchen knife and offered Gareth the handle.
“Correcting,” he said, looking significantly to a group of scullies in a line, also wielding chopping knives, waiting in front of a bench piled with plucked animals, vegetables and spices.
“Correcting, Sir?” gulped the twelve-year-old nervously, although trying to look enthusiastic too. Gareth wanted to make an impression.
“The produce,” explained Bouchebold a little wearily, “there’s something wrong in Pendolis now the Black Warlock’s slobbering over everything and we have to be careful. Puts everyone off their food too, upstairs, if we don’t prepare and present, absolutely perfectly.”
Gareth Marks looked confused.
“So when a cut of lamb turns up with a sow’s ear or a lamprey starts to look like a lobster, we chop, separate and put things back in order. Order, order, order. It won’t ever go to high table, but nothing’s wasted down here.”
“The Teller,” said Gareth suddenly, his eyes sparking furiously, although his head was starting to spin too, “Because they say the Teller’s wounded?”
“You’re sharp, lad,” said Bouchebold approvingly, “For one so young and lowly. With ears to the ground too. That’s good. Very goos. In training, or down here. But what’s your name, lad?”
“Gareth Mar…. Er, Gareth of the Mark,” corrected Gareth, trying to stand taller.
“Got one, boy?” asked Bouchebold and his pure blue eyes narrowed.
“One, Sir?”
“A mark? Scar, birthmark, lesion, cicatrices, sixth finger?”
“No,” answered Gareth softly and he blushed. Bouchebold seemed rather disappointed as he loomed over him.
“Pity. I thought there was something about you. Everything in life is about the best ingredients but it’s important to stand out in Pendolis too. Mind you, the first lesson in blasted Warrior Training, they say, is always pick the right moment to show your true stuff. It can be really vicious out there, at times, and I mean, we’re making heroes here, not idiots.”
Bouchebold winked.
“Yes, Sir” said Gareth, feeling like an idiot and wondering what the twins were getting up to in their warrior training. He was suddenly glad he had been given kitchen duties.
“And stop calling me, Sir, lad. It’s COOKS down here. First Cook, in my case. Got that, Garnet?”
“Yes, First Cook, but it’s Gar.”
“And take a tip from Bouchebold. High or low, whatever it is you do in life lad, do it well. Everything you learn is of use, everything. But here, very few will tell you how it’s really done. Why should they? I mean they have their own dreams and ambitions. So you have to learn on the job. LEARN.”
“Yes,” said Gareth Marks, as BoucheBold seemed to look at him rather significantly, “thank you, Sir.”
“Manners too. I like that. Perhaps we’ll have you serving then, in six or eight months time. Now, musn’t dawdle. They’ll soon be waiting at the Pass.”
Gareth Marks suddenly felt home sick.
“Kitchen Staff of Pendolis,” bellowed Bouchebold though, swinging round dramatically, “Back to work now. Keep it tight and together and Good Luck, one and all. A Working kitchen is a happy kitchen. GET IT DONE.”
Bouchebold flicked his head and started to move off towards the bench as Gareth followed meekly but suddenly there was a flash of red and a bird went sailing over their heads.
“What’s that?” cried Gareth, ducking. The bird had settled on top of an enormous upturned copper cooking pot and he looked around as if he owned the place.
“THAT?” said Bouchebold, looking rather irritated with Gareth for even asking, “THAT is not a THAT, boy, but Herbert, the Kitchen Phoenix.”
“Phoenix,” gasped Gareth Marks, “the mythical bird that rises from…”
A thin wisp of steam seemed to be rising from the Phoenix’s feathers even now while Herbert had a decidedly sour expression in his doleful, watery eyes and his red feathers looked rather old and mangy. In fact one suddenly fell out, drifted into a bowl of jam and burst into flames.
“Mythical!” squeaked Bouchebold, looking very flustered indeed now, “oh, we don’t use such language in Pendolis, dear me, no. You’ll be saying Dragons are mythical next, heavens, or chimera, gorgons and even the Last Unicorn. Herbert would get very steamed up to hear he’s mythical. And Herbert has very good ears, or had, before he started to go a little deaf.”
Gareth shivered and suddenly remembered that horse he had seen running in terror from the Dark Wood.
“Yes, Sir, I mean First Cook,” corrected Gareth Marks quickly, “of course. You don’t use Dragons then, in your kitchen?”
Gareth was thinking of those recipes in Pendellion’s book and Bouchebold looked at him sharply. His face had suddenly become rather hard and suspicious, but it softened again.
“None to spare, nowadays,” answered Bouchbold almost wistfully, “But Herbert is my real eyes and ears down here,” he added fondly, although he seemed to be talking to himself now, “Quality Control, you see. Could never manage without him, dear creature. Herbert has a perfect palette too. Herbert’s worked and slaved in the Kitchens of Pendolis even longer than I have. And that’s nearly 80 years.”
Gareth was astounded, since the First Cook looked rather young, but even as Bouchebold said it the old bird took wing again and landed next to a cook who had been tasting something with a spoon and was looking rather confused.
The Phoenix stuck his head straight into the saucepan and, when it emerged, it was dripping with a thick, wine dark gravy. Gareth wanted to curl up with laughter as Herbert shook its head furiously and nodded its beak towards a pile of fresh rock salt. The cook looked rather crestfallen but added some obediently, and then some more, as Herbert nodded, rather superiorly too, then flew away in disgust, with a mournful and disapproving screech. The inspecting Phoenix settled by another cook now, chopping huge red onions this time, nearly the colour of its moulting feathers. Rather than do anything though, the bird just stood there, and Gareth suddenly realised huge tears were streaming from its feathery face.
“Is he chopping them wrong?” asked Gareth, holding his knife even tighter, and determined to make an impression today.
“Not at all,” said Bouchebold. “Best slicer in the kitchens. Trained him myself.”
“The onions then,” said Gareth, because Herbert the Phoenix was literally sobbing now, as the bird stood there watching.
“They’re sweet onions, not eye waterers,” answered Bouchebold, grinning. “Thing is, poor Herbert can be rather sentimental and always gets upset at cruelty, especially to vegetables.”
“Oh,” said Gareth Marks, thinking Pendolis the maddest place he had ever been now, and feeling suddenly lost again. He saw Sarissa by that spit-roast rhinoceros thing trying to pick up an enormous copper spoon, very irritably indeed, and poor Sao rolling up his sleeves, by a stone water trough and the most horrendously large pile of filthy plates.
Gareth looked down at the bench they had stopped at. It was ranged with plucked chickens, ducks, rabbits and geese, but they all had something slightly wrong. A rabbit had a frog’s legs, a duck had sparrow’s wings, a chicken had what looked like the comb of a Dragon. Gareth Marks felt rather sick but Bouchebold had suddenly reached out and grabbed one of the chopper’s arms.
“Not like that,” he growled, looking significantly towards that stone archway with the red glow, “or I’ll send you to work cooking for the Dragons, and you wouldn’t like that at all. Be careful and precise.”
Gareth wondered if Dragons really lay beyond and was rather startled by Bouchebold’s change of mood and tone but two men had come bustling across the room now, carrying two large wooden crates.
“Your fish, Bouchebold,” grunted one, “fresh from the Foundless Sea.”
“And a delivery of berries and champignon,” said the other, “from the Dark Wood.”
The Great Bouchebold’s glowing face lit up immediately.
“At last,” he cried delightedly, “The special ingredients. I thought they’d never get through, with the wars. Put them over there and don’t forget to mark them VERY DANGEROUS.”
The men nodded gravely and the great Bouchebold swept away into his kingdom, as Gareth was left with his chopping knife wondering what could be dangerous about food. So it began, their very first day’s work in the great kitchens of Pendolis.
As they worked Sao, Gareth, and Sarissa kept checking on each other’s progress, although they often lost sight of each other in all that smoke and steam. Gareth also kept trying to catch the First Cook’s eye, since he felt they had made some special connection but as he went about, testing, checking and suggesting, and the cooks took out their anger or frustration on the scullions, the Great Bouchebold had completely forgotten who they were.

David Clement-Davies Copyright 2014 – All Rights Reserved Published by Phoenix Ark Press

You can join the campaign on Facebook too, with David Clement-Davies, or at the page “Stories in The Post – The Dragon tries again”. There is an online meeting tonight with the Street Team about strategy at 6pm London time. You can also read what has been blogged so far on Wattpad.

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