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Good God, what an astounding, generous, gorgeous day’s walking, that found me shouting not just ‘freedom’ and ‘lovely’ but ‘JUST BEAUTIFUL’ from the start! If I thought little could top the Hartings, today on the twenty miles from Cocking to Storrington, this ancient highway really came into its own for me, and for many coinciding reasons too, past and present. One of the nicest and strangest being the lift I got off the way this evening from Neela, a warm eyed gardener, in her green Citroen Escapade, walking with her dog and her daughter Eli, who turned out to be studying Children’s Literature at Winchester University. Then, when I muttered about crowd funding, Solent Radio tomorrow and told them my name, Eli declared that Fire Bringer is one of her favourite books and she has made many round about read it! That serendipity joins the girl in the estate agent when I first arrived and someone in the new YMCA cafe too in Winchester. Don’t tell me there aren’t strange patterns in the world, just like the landscape.

But first feet first. If the sight of Crypt Farm up the way from my hotel this morning, dozing in a damply glittering 7.30 mist, filled these aching bones with foreboding, perhaps I’m walking through the pain barrier now. While although the way up that hill was steep it was smoothly cemented beyond the field, rather than hard tarmaced, and lovely on the pads. As was so much of what is effectively one of the straightest parts of the South Downs Way that, through a succession of rolling farms, plunged me into dreamy forest groves, rich meadows and magical avenues of light and shape and shade. You need Keats to do it justice, with his ‘verdorous glooms and winding, mossy ways’, since the forest tops are just beginning to be touched by the coming richness of Autumn. As the sun rose higher and hotter though I found myself second-breakfasting on wild blackberries, plunging in and out of near sacred avenues of light and nearly burst out laughing with joy when I emerged in a field of glowing sunflowers, sentinel heads turned all together to praise the yellow East.

On and on the glorious tapestry went, Manor farm Down, Charlton Forest, Taggents farm, Graffam Down, Tegleaze Farm, passing through yet another of those sturdy gates, with their easy metal latches, into a harvested hay field, sweeping down the hill, where the giant round hay stacks looked like golden full stops in the sunlight, as the odd car windscreen glinted with too much speed in the distance. I was caught up there, with a huge grin on my face, by one of two wayfarers from the hotel the night before, burning the ground on his mountain bike and travelling probably two and a half times faster than a walker. He had left at 9am and no doubt benefitted from the Full English I had none of, with all abed in the BlueBell Inn. I won’t grouch too much about cyclists, most have been friendly and considerate, but now and then they do tend to come up your backside unannouncing, with the arrogance of anyone in the sway of technology. We wished each other happy travels, as walkers always greet each other with a chat and the knowing smile of a shared endeavour and he hurried on.

So to discover more of a route you can only have the vaguest map in your head of before you set out. The 100 mile Way is of course many things, not just clear chalk paths or droving tracks, all very we’ll signposted except nearing Eastbourne, where the key when you come to any main road is to look left and right for the next sign. But it involves many narrow metalled roads, pavement paths passed suburban houses, winding bridle ways and points where potential tracks split and rejoin, round hills or through fields. An interesting thing today though was becoming more aware of the management of the South Downs too, with its signs about how this is all farmed landscape, often boasting the ‘Red Tractor’ Farm quality labels, or why gates by cattle grids need to be closed to keep in livestock and paths need to be stuck to. But also a scheme called LEAF – Linking Environment and Farming – explaining, whether it’s true or not, how farmers care for the landscape and how little cut-outs of wild ground are left in ploughed or sown fields for flowers and nesting skylarks, as well as hedgerows allowed to grow wild. Sure enough, looking back across the endlessly variegated scenery, there they were, under a brilliant blue sky and burning sun, dotted with cloud, adding to a constantly shifting landscape of light and shade. Just stop and watch those clouds pass shades like waves across the fields or watch huge renaissance skies pouring out sunlight like rain and you’ll know the majesty of the South Downs.

Perhaps everyone comes to a stage when life is about looking back, not too soon you hope, but it’s an obvious psychological effect on a long journey too, looking back on both where you’ve been and who you’ve met too. But today, as well as looking back with pride at the ground I was eating up, came a succession of merry meetings: The bloke scouting the ground for his students, preparing for a Duke of Edinburgh award; the charming young man who shone when we spoke of The Seven Sisters, and was making for Winchester, to stay at the Sustainability Centre. I tried to crowd fund him and he talked about a writer friend in Winchester who meets her group of compatriots weekly in the famous and charming Black Boy Pub, where I’ve put up one of my posters, though never got a reply from the manageress about the RNIB. Those passing moments act like a kind of bush telegraph,too, whether it was the reservations from the couple I met yesterday about my hotel in Cocking being on a main road,or the shared wonders you might meet on the way. So you do start to touch something almost ‘Chaucerian’ when we didn’t have instant miscommunication, emails and mobile phones, that stretched back centuries in the English experience – how travellers must have learnt of attractive places to go and perhaps settle, of conflict, war, plague and opportunity. So came the approach to Bignor Hill, passed a Bothy I regretted I hadn’t tried to stay in and where there was a famous decoy clutch of airplanes during the war to fool those nasty Germans about Operation Overlord. I wish I had time to detour to the Roman Villa here, but the extensive drops off the escarpment make it a real hike, that could take up half the day, while it prepared me for what came next – Stanes Street.

There it was, emerging out of the white chalk way like history rising before your eyes, cambered, straight, reliable, undeniably Roman. I had no idea at all that part of that ancient road between Chichester and London, which I think becomes Borough High Street through Southwark, shares a central back bone of the South Downs Way. I was suddenly dreaming of Rome, or marching with the eagle of The Ninth and thinking of moments in Fire Bringer too. Not a hard march with such height on it all, following the gentle Lizard’s back of the downs, that makes this such pleasant walking. Far more than pleasant though, from the drama both of the land and skies, where giant clouds, white and angry grey, were massing above like the supertankers glistening out to sea. You could sit for hours and watch how those leviathans of weather mass, form and change over these powerful thermal generators of hills, scooping moisture into an endless vortex of movement and visual drama. My heart was soaring now, as I met a friendly couple on that Roman track, one of whom had worked in publishing for years and rather agreed with my premise that though nice people, they don’t exactly fight for much. On I went passed the Toby Stone, a rather brilliant little memorial from 1955 that doubles as a horse Mounting stone and carries an inscription from Robert Louis Stevenson that I recited at My father’s funeral. Of course the South Downs Way, as much as being an ancient route for life and change, is about ever present death. From those barrows on Old Winchester hill and the daily forest burials at the Sustainability Centre,to other burial sites on the route like the Devil’s Jumps, that I passed yesterday. In fact not a bad place to go! It is fascinating names en route too, filled with local lore, that make this road so numinous too.

Now I was caught up by the second bod from the hotel, marching to Washington, a good four miles on from my planned night top. Just as many use this ground just for walks, or do the Way in manageable sections, I think people sense if they have anything in common or want to share a pace and he hurried on. Lunch was becokoning now and so descending back into a valley I crossed the angry and decidedly murderous A29 and plunged down into the lovely valley of Houghton and Amberley, to be given a lift by a pretty local woman up to the George and Dragon Pub, of course, for a bloke with pressing news of a Dragon In the Post! From the thrumming clientele the promise of food proved as good as the chicken liver pate. Yet as I ate it and chatted to a nice bloke who lives in Lewes about Glyndebourne, champagne picnics and his own walks and blogs, a distinct monied gentility had suddenly entered in that stretches from Hampshire to London and back. It wasn’t exactly him, despite his describing Storrington as a ‘shit hole‘, or worrying about solicitors and costly arguments with his mother. It was the snooty attitude of the publican and his wife, although she did let me mix my purchase of a shandy and pate with eating my own pork pie, only in the Garden of course, not the terrace. Why is it that everything is money nowadays and more respect isn’t paid for the tradition of ancient travellers, pilgrims or not? The guys hulking the beer barrels were far more sympathetic than the landlord to my filling my water bottle, from a hose outside, like a tinker.

It was a delightful spot though, in the bowl of the valley, surrounded by dropping apple tress and everything in me wanted to snooze and linger; the delight of travel and way faring with no purpose at all and as important a part of doing the South Downs Way as meandering, rambling and stopping to look, or look back. Indeed I thought sadly with these astonishing every changing views of the 100 people who lose their sight every week in the UK, or my Dad and his eyesight battles, and suddenly rather regretted not planning my way a bit better, by relying on comps and so not stopping in Amberely instead of Storrington. A feeling not exactly cured by the small, humdrum town that night, yet certainly by a hugely comfy bed, nice spacious room and, above all for a walker, the most magnificent steaming hot showers. Bliss.

The White Horse Hotel – forgive my romance of an ‘inn’, since everyone seems to like shiny new these days – boasts being the former residence to the composer Sir Arnold Bax and at night with the not unsexy tequila chavs at the bar, he might have advised on the choice of music. Not worthy of another harsh comment by my lunchtime compatriot about keeping your wallet pocket well zipped though and it is now a clean but modern joint, that is certainly not for the Houghton set. But they kindly comped me in my adventure, have groups of walkers visiting, naturally a very passing traffic, and I liked them more than the dragon landlady. As for that lunchtime garden though, there is a joy in leaving things behind too, so ever onward, out through the fields and over the odd little metal bridge that crosses the river Arun, all bull rushes and drifting eddies of watery light, past the walls of Amberley castle, and the climb began again, very steeply up the aptly named High Down. There more signs spoke of the wild life here but then to the wonderful, real sight of kites riding above the forest line with their distinctive jack knife tails, while another rock-star-looking couple told me of a local women in the 70’s who as a young mother had done the way with her children and a donkey. We both agreed it would make a book people want to read. But now, nearing home, I was starting to ask again what this walk is really all about. A noble or idiotic protest march against disconnection and publishing corporations these days? A desperate attempt to be heard and tell everyone I meet about a project still marching on, that ends in just a week? Or simply a wonderful adventure and the most glorious lifetime walk you could not only possibly imagine, but actually experience. Well, whatever happens, that’s good enough for me!

David stayed in The White Horse Hotel, Storrington – telephone 01903745760. Rooms are £85 a night with breakfast. He drives back to Southampton today for a BBC Interviewthen picks up the Way this evening, walking on to The Rising Sun in Upper Beeding.

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I don’t know how else to move the fates on now and push Dragon In The Post forward, except to stretch some muscles before I set off next Monday from Winchester to Eastbourne. I know a three mile round trip walk into Arlesford is hardly pushing it (climbing St Catherine’s Hill tomorrow though), but with a hazel wand in hand and looking like a twit, it’s all freeing too: Watching the cooling change in the weather, after torrential rain these past few days, wondering about light-weight food, imaging how I should break up the walk and generally mixing dread with excitement. So to young deer grazing by the watercress beds, astonishing mountains of cloud worthy of Rannoch’s journey through hope and despair in Fire Bringer (soon to be republished, thanks to what we’ve achieved already at 72% funded) and that carcass of a dead bird on the tarmac I passed before, beginning to return to our primordial soup. A very flattened feeling, if feeling is the right word, when there isn’t any left. An eagle was riding the thermals too though, heron elegantly guarding their spots on the Itchen and with the wheat fields nearly cut for the harvest, all well in the world.

Is it cynical to mix my own project with trying to raise a bit of sponsorship money for the RNIB – The Royal National Institute for The Blind? I don’t think so, and something is better than nothing, if I’m doing the bloody thing anyway. S kindly did a chalk sign in my local pub and if it has no effect on Dragon In The Post, I can do it for another reason too. Also for the fun of writing it up though, having a go, mixed with a vague despair, so rubbed in by the desultory attitude of The Hampshire Chronicle recently – damn their humdrum eyes. Does it mean that either no one will be reading, or wishing disaster on the whole mad enterprise with a typical small county sneer? In fact, since I can see something of a readership in the searches and hits on this site, I know a few people are reading. But why, why!?

To see perhaps if they are exposed for the Hot Fuzz secrets of a wayward Hampshire Life? To find inspiration in my Hardyesque mastery of a country eye? To share a little in some sense of mutual life adventure? Who knows and honestly who cares, except that sometimes I wish people would listen a little harder. Then comes the delight of ‘projects’, for charity or anything else, dissolving into fun encounters and chance meetings, which any walk should be about too – R the wildflower pirate and his girlfriend, who said, as I rounded the bend into their yard on the way home, that she had been wondering about the odd bod down the pub trying to crowd fund a book, just three minutes before. A bit like the blog on Facebook today about a mum whose daughter had dreamt of someone called Robin Williams, only to wake to discover the awful news! Then my immediate neighbour turned up to feed her recently broken horse Marmite sandwiches (keeps off the ticks apparently) and resist my disreputable efforts to get her co-stabler to let me ride her mount. How hard it seems to have an adventure these days! Delightful as she is, she insists that I’m a man with more leisure than sense, more money too (though she is wrong about both, sadly) and that a walk is pointless and I should come up with carefully targeted marketing strategies, before it all ends on August 27th. Yes, perhaps,but it isn’t quite the point of a long fight with publishers and the Internet, and something that is about trying for some connection, as much as anything else. Nor of my very conscious strategy to have some fun and experience, to share that too, rather than endlessly complaining about some people’s meanness, or why we have stopped listening to each other.

I should tell her that my devilish plan, for what it’s worth, is this: To walk for myself and sheer enjoyment, to not fret too much about how hard it is to ‘sell’ an idea and to have a blast. Meanwhile, of course, behind every hedgerow, in the windiest coppices, perched on their chairs of high opinion down the local pubs and sizzling the bacon of their own hopes and dreams, not to mention some natural Schadenfreude, the dream is thousands of Hampshire folk will turn to watch a week’s walk to Beachy Head and a Countdown to project success or failure and intervene at just the right moment too. I’ve lost all hope my compatriots will walk a bit, or rise from their beds to meet me in Eastbourne with ticker tape and prolonged applause, but I know this, on this Hampshire walk I won’t be entirely lonely either.

David Clement-Davies sets out to walk the South Downs Way next Monday, August 18th. A small charity element has been written into the £50 pledge at but you can sponsor him purely for the charity too, by writing to this blog or to David’s pages on Facebook. We are at 72% funded on Dragon In The Post with 15 days to go and you can support a book and publishing project now by CLICKING HERE

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It won’t come out until there are only five days left to run of the heroic Dragon In The Post campaign, but you never know, so we’ve now turned to the funniest newspaper in the land, Private Eye, and placed an add in the back which reads as follows:

We’re nearly there, with a week to go! Help annoy nasty mainstream publishers
by crowd funding a once best selling author’s kid’s novel at

Well, after being ticked off for words about ‘humdrum’ by The Hampshire Chronicle (shurely shome mistake – Ed), what can you do but chuckle and be creative? By the way, did I tell you about the school magazine I helped do in the age of the dinosaurs called ‘Private Parts’, that one of those donnish fellows at Westminster School called the best he’d ever seen? No? Thank God for that.


The image and the cover of Private Eye is from the Wikepedia entry on the paper

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SONY DSCAt a thrilling 69% funded a very special new perk has just been put up at! It means that if you contribute at £45 to the project you’ll receive a signed copy of Dragon In The Post, with your name in the front, a copy of Claire Bell’s Ratha’s Creature but also be able to purchase a package of David’s classic Ebooks, worth up to $29.94 for under $5.95. Those eBooks are Firebringer, The Sight, Fell, The co-edition, The Telling Pool and The Terror Time Spies.

Since even we are in Amazon’s hands that discount has to be run as a Countdown Promotion, after the project closes, but only old and new backers at that level and above will be directly informed of when and the promotion time limits too. We cannot make the same mistake of just running promotions to support the project, since the last time it brought no new project contributions and nearly 8,000 free eBooks were downloaded!

To help us start that grass roots fire, break through in crowd funding and cross our finishing line by August 27th, please take advantage of this Super Promotion and take the £45 Perk by CLICKING HERE

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Dear reader,

Perhaps I’ve been a bit remiss lately, since I blogged about a walk into Winchester, or that fun visit to Jane Austen’s house, where the care taker had read my novels. Remiss in not writing more about my wildest adventures living in ravishing Hampshire, while trying to crowd fund a story too at Indiegogo, Dragon In The Post. Which have included some highly colourful and vaguely drunken beer festivals, although I of course abstain, a caste of sometimes enchanting or very eccentric characters, the most astonishing electric storm I’ve seen in years, with lighting rippling through the leaden Hampshire skies like veins in a Norse God’s angry biceps, or a brief taste of the ancient Winchester Hat festival, haunt of largely disenfranchised artists and musicians.

Picaresque joys that henceforth will be retitled “My Hampshire Chronicles. Not least because of a little spat today with the esteemed members of the Fourth Estate, journalists on that very local paper, that reached up to the editor himself! The reason for my own chagrin, or sheer disappointment and frustration, was that after having been interviewed and photographed for The Hampshire Chronicle near three weeks back and hoping a piece might give us a shot at some real hearing, a hope shared by backers too, I was ticked off for my impertinence in even ringing to enquire, and on a hectic news day too, if the article might come out tomorrow. Only to be told again that it wasn’t and that ‘I was doing my cause no good’. What cause, I cry, if fairly mainstream media does not even listen, which is the very paradox or point of the project too? A not-so-impertinent call then, made with some reason, I still insist, since a piece had been written, time spent, hopes raised and if I hadn’t extended a deadline recently the whole thing would have come to an end this Saturday anyway, un-regarded, at least in literate Hampshire circles. I had also appealed just rather honestly, I hope, to fellow wordsmith’s obvious love of reading and writing, yet underlining that, like journalists, crowd funding authors have deadlines as well. Perhaps they did not know, though I certainly told them. Then I transgressed most mightily though when I followed my putting-of-the-phone-down with cross emailed thoughts on the grave matter, which produced a very curt editorial response from the man at the top – Leave our journalists alone!

Evidently the real transgression though was to suggest, from clearly worthless common report, I add, that this attempt to break back through into wider publishing, or at least say something frank about the difficulties for modern writers of platforms and publishing, agents and things, these mass-phenomena days, or to share news of a skilful novel itself, might actually be as interesting to real readers on some human level as other articles in the paper that were perhaps a little ‘humdrum‘. A swift dismissal at my rabid persecution of his poor journalists, nonetheless, effectively telling me to take a hike worthy of walking The South Downs Way, and then “Furthermore, I take issue with your claim of the ‘humdrum fair’ published in the Hampshire Chronicle. It’s puzzling, then, that the paper has twice been short listed for weekly newspaper of the year in the past eight months!” He should read Dr Johnson’s letter to the Earl of Chesterfield! I’m afraid I have not done due journalistic diligence, being only an ordinary member of the reading and writing public, in inquiring if the worthy organ had actually won – once or twice.

Fair play though, forget the weary exposure of this long-fighting author, wrestling with something so difficult and sometimes demoralising too as trying to speak through Social Media, indeed something often so highly anti-social as Facebook, in my opinion. Which in such hugely wealthy country circles as Hampshire seems immediately associated with a kind of begging too, as my local publican remarked, or only worthy of pennies tossed into a hat, fair or foul, down Winchester High Street. (Not a monstrous £25 for a real, signed, First edition, or other ‘perk’ levels too.) My efforts to explain that writing a novel is not the same as busking, romantic as it is, largely fell on puzzled, cloth cap ears, down the pub. But then remember the enormous strain on belaboured working journalists too, as the chimes of ancient Winchester Cathedral ring out their nightly Angelus, hurrying us all towards every future’s inevitable deadline. Faintly heard echoes down there in the hectic Hampshire news rooms, thrumming to the constant tap of ticker-tape and coping with the daily hurricane of emotional threats and demands in trying to solve the Gaza Crisis, exposing nests of nasty foreign terrorists, challenging the appalling Capital gaps at Davos, which crowd funding might one day help to remodel a little, or dealing with the ever running issue of the local art bypass. What place indeed for a little fairy tale about a Dragon delivered to a boy in an eggbox, to take you to a better world?!

I think all I have ever asked is a fair crack of the whip though and did from The Chronicle too, but never annoy a journalist or editor, they’re especially unforgiving, or un-impartial, nor try to do something a little differently. Then I’ve just changed my mind on everything, even aspiring Dragon Warriors – be a lover not a fighter! My final, endlessly witty reposte to this tearing off a Gaza strip though was that “perhaps you would like to publish a letter of complaint to the editor!” Complaining no more works though than gloom, or insisting anyone should ever do anything in life, so smile, laugh, take what media pennies you may with a hum of musical gratitude and march on. As I must start training again for that 100 miles walk to an August finishing line (I hope no dead line), and these pages will just return more humbly, Sir, to enjoying writing itself. If even writing about being largely ignored, or unread, in sunny Hampshire! Ah me. No wonder several promises made have not been stuck to, like posters promised up in Waterstones, or certain meetings unreliably unmet. Then clearly“In Hertford, Hereford or Hampshire Crowd Funding is hardly ever heard of, or happens.” Apologies though to disappointed backers for letting the good song down.

David Clement-Davies – August 2014

You can still help find a constituency and crowd fund a story, that you can read part of on Wattpad and hear on audio too, perhaps support an organic little publisher as well, Phoenix Ark Press, by clicking here AND BACKING DRAGON IN THE POST. The project closes on August 27th. Many thanks. The photo is a still from the animation up at Indiegogo showing an as yet unopened egg box!

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At 69% funded and over £3,100 DCD publishes another except from Dragon In The Post you can read on WATTPAD or listen to the audios in blogs below.

You can join the adventure and contribute too by going to DRAGON IN THE POST IN INDIEGOGO


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You know crowd funding feels a bit like fighting the first war, at times, and with Dragon In The Post a little stuck at 69% funded is sometimes like wading through mud, and perhaps just as futile trying to make a key breakthrough! But when you heart is at its lowest there come the Street Team again to inspire and surprise and, for yesterday’s Memorial for the opening of the First War, commemorated so extraordinarily beautifully in a river of poppies outside The Tower of London, 20 year old Stephanie Jackson’s lovely poem:

Upon the bloodied fields of red,
Above the canon roar,
Among the gathered soldier men,
‘Up and over’
Comes the call
‘Those who turn back you shall shoot’
No cowards will survive,
And into no man’s land
They fled
Upon the battle cry.
And now the fields are green again,
Where bodies fell and lay,
Oh so many years ago,
Upon this fateful day.

Stephanie Jackson August 2014

Whether we win or lose this fight I am so proud, so why not come and share your own work too, your ideas, passions, photos and paintings? Most especially we need a great push now and your interest and contributions by SUPPORTING DRAGON IN THE POST HERE

The photos are of the WWI river of poppies flowing around the walls of The Tower of London. The memorial remains there until November 5th.

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Tremendous and thank you all, the Dragon In The Post project has just jumped to over 3K funded and is at 68%, while, with the time extension to the maximum 60 days allowed, it is now in pole position on the Indiegogo Small Business section at

We also got into the Indiegogo Newsletter last weekend and are going to appear in the Hampshire Chronicle. A great meeting with the Street team just now and many more merriments to come. But now we really want to start a grass roots publishing fire, something truly authentic and remember this is not just for one book but many others, sent to you in the post.

If you would like to get all the Indiegogo updates direct, enjoy the wonderful gallery of fan art and films being done, get special perks, hear an audio reading and own a First Edition copy too, with your name in the front for supporting, then why not go to right now by clicking SUPPORT THE PROJECT NOW

You can also hear the audio reading by clicking the arrow below.

Many thanks.


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Facebook and Social Media ‘Press Release’



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

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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